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Author Topic: PC341, Giant Episode: Balfour And Meriwether In The Incident Of The Harrowmoor D  (Read 9854 times)

Ocicat

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PodCastle 341, Giant Episode: Balfour And Meriwether In The Incident Of The Harrowmoor Dogs

by Daniel Abraham

Read by Paul Jenkins (of the Skepticule podcast)

Originally published as a novella by Subterranean Press. Pick up your copy here!

It was the twenty-eighth of April, 188- and a day of warmth, beauty, and commerce in the crowded streets of London, but Lord Carmichael’s features had a distinctly wintery aspect.  He stood by the front window of the King Street flat, scowling down at the cobbled streets.  The snifter of brandy in his left hand was all but forgotten.  Behind his back, Meriwether caught Balfour’s gaze and lifted his eyebrows.  Balfour stroked his broad mustache and cleared his throat.  The sound was very nearly an apology.  For a long moment, it seemed Lord Carmichael had not so much as heard it, but then he heaved a great sigh and turned back to the men.

The flat itself was in a state of utter disarray.  The remains of the breakfast sat beside the empty fire grate, and the body of a freshly slaughtered pig lay stretched out across the carpeted floor, its flesh marked out in squares by lines of lampblack and a variety of knives protruding from it, one in each square.  Meriwether’s silver flute perched upon the mantle in a nest of musical notation, and a half-translated treatise on the effects of certain new world plant extracts upon human memory sat abandoned on the desk.  Lord Carmichael’s eyes lifted to the two agents of the Queen as he stepped over the porcine corpse and took his seat.

“I’m afraid we have need of you, boys,” Lord Carmichael said.  “Daniel Winters is missing.”

“Surely not an uncommon occurrence,” Meriwether said, affecting a lightness of tone.  “My understanding was that our friend Winters has quite the reputation for losing himself in the fleshpots of the empire between missions.  I would have expected him to have some difficulty finding himself, most mornings.”

“He wasn’t between missions,” Lord Carmichael said.  “He was engaged in an enquiry.”

“Queen’s business?” Balfour said.

“Indirectly.  It was a blue rose affair.”

Balfour sat forward, thick fists under his chin and a flinty look in his eyes.  Among all the concerns and intrigues that Lord Carmichael had the managing of, the blue rose affairs were the least palatable not from any moral or ethical failure — Balfour and Meriwether understood the near-Jesuitical deformations of ethics and honor that the defense of the Empire could require — but rather because they were so often lacking in the rigor they both cultivated.  When a housewife in Bath woke screaming that a fairy had warned her of a threat against the Queen, it was a blue rose affair.  When a young artist lost his mind and slaughtered prostitutes, painting in their blood to open a demonic gate, it was a blue rose affair.  When a professor of economics was tortured to the edge of madness by dreams of an ancient and sleeping god turning foul and malefic eyes upon the human world, it was a blue rose affair.  And so almost without fail, they were wastes of time and effort, ending in conformations of hysteria that posed no threat and offered no benefit to anyone sane.  Meriwether took his seat, propping his heels on the dead pig.  As if in response, a bit of trapped gas escaped the hog like a sigh.


Rated R. Contains violence and monsters in the Victorian fashion.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: January 02, 2015, 01:09:19 PM by Talia »



bounceswoosh

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Reply #1 on: December 14, 2014, 02:53:47 AM
At the end there, was that a reference to Alan Turing? ... Just looked it up. Yes. Yes it was.



Rowie

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What a treat, a new Balfour and Meriwether and a giant Episode as well.



danooli

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shady government deals with evil, the stigma of homosexuality, the state of mental and health institutions...and giant freaking underground dogs.

Not to mention Balfour and Merriweather.

Loved it. And am so glad Merriweather isn't really homophobic. I feel awful for him though :(



DKT

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Reply #4 on: December 18, 2014, 04:25:49 PM
At the end there, was that a reference to Alan Turing? ... Just looked it up. Yes. Yes it was.

Wow. Nice catch!


kibitzer

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Speaking of Alan Turing, anyone seen "The Imitation Game"? I hope to see it over my four-week holiday :)

As to the story, well. Fabulous. This one struck me as the most Holmesian (in tone) so far. For me, it evoked that Doylesian flavour of late 1800's London at every turn. Mix that with a Lovecraftian horror (something Holmes never encountered in the canon) and you have a perfect tale of adventure, intrigue and derring-do.

The "Inverted Man" thread wove through the whole seamlessly and when we finally learn the reason for Merriweather's seeming condemnation of Caster(sp?), it seems only natural and fitting.

Another fantastic tale from Mr. Abraham.


raetsel

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Reply #6 on: December 19, 2014, 08:20:27 AM
At the end there, was that a reference to Alan Turing? ... Just looked it up. Yes. Yes it was.

That had totally passed me by. Very impressive both for the author to drop the hint and for your Sherlock Holmes like powers of deduction.



raetsel

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Speaking of Alan Turing, anyone seen "The Imitation Game"? I hope to see it over my four-week holiday :)


Highly recommended it is a really clever mix of character study of a genius and a wartime thriller. There is inevitably some poetic licence with events and who did what in real life but they are easy to forgive. The 'batch is on top form.



raetsel

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Oh I meant to comment on the story itself as well. I really should have put all these posts in one. Sorry about the multiple posts I've been off the forums for a long time and forgot how they work but this story drew me back, not least to see what other people thought of it.

I had a real roller coaster relationship with this story or rather perhaps with Mr Merryweather ( and by extension the author ). From all the other work of Abraham I have read or heard I should have had more confidence. I love the way this story mirrored the elements of underground living and alliances of necessity with the lives of gay men and both the way they were treated and ( in Merryweather's case ) their own subterranean bargains they make by denying their sexuality.

A lesser author might have had the flawed but noble invert make the ultimate sacrifice to save the others but not Mr Abraham he had a far more subtle and satisfying denouement.

I like to think that Mr Balfour, scratching away with his pencils at the drawing of the war machine at the end, completely gets what Mr Merryweather meant about living a life without sunlight and under his bristling moustaches is just quietly wishing he could say to his friend that it's ok and it doesn't bother him what he is.



bounceswoosh

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Reply #9 on: December 19, 2014, 02:08:18 PM
At the end there, was that a reference to Alan Turing? ... Just looked it up. Yes. Yes it was.

Wow. Nice catch!

At the end there, was that a reference to Alan Turing? ... Just looked it up. Yes. Yes it was.

That had totally passed me by. Very impressive both for the author to drop the hint and for your Sherlock Holmes like powers of deduction.
Thanks, both of you. For me, that reference made the story a million times better. It tied the events explicitly to the real world, where the young boy, the innocent, of the story will eventually kill himself in shame. A third way of dealing with the impossibility of the situation.



SpareInch

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Reply #10 on: December 19, 2014, 02:39:59 PM
At the end there, was that a reference to Alan Turing? ... Just looked it up. Yes. Yes it was.

Wow. Nice catch!

That had totally passed me by. Very impressive both for the author to drop the hint and for your Sherlock Holmes like powers of deduction.
Thanks, both of you. For me, that reference made the story a million times better. It tied the events explicitly to the real world, where the young boy, the innocent, of the story will eventually kill himself in shame. A third way of dealing with the impossibility of the situation.

Yeah, well I saw it first, but Bounceswoosh's more practical footwear let her beat feet to the forum ahead of me. :P

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I liked it in the end, but I took a very long time to warm up to it.  I mostly started liking it at the point that the one character started talking about the ongoing alliance with the dogs and why the Empire made it.  Up until that, apart from the homosexuality conflict that I found realistic for the time but also irritating, it seemed like a kind of by-the-books story.

The reveal of the empire's alliance made the dogs much more interesting rather than just being B movie monsters, and from there on I was interested to the end.


Good catch on the Alan Turing reference!

I like to think that Mr Balfour, scratching away with his pencils at the drawing of the war machine at the end, completely gets what Mr Merryweather meant about living a life without sunlight and under his bristling moustaches is just quietly wishing he could say to his friend that it's ok and it doesn't bother him what he is.

I like it.



SpareInch

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I like to think that Mr Balfour, scratching away with his pencils at the drawing of the war machine at the end, completely gets what Mr Merryweather meant about living a life without sunlight and under his bristling moustaches is just quietly wishing he could say to his friend that it's ok and it doesn't bother him what he is.

I like it.

It's always seemed to me that there must have been a lot of that sort of thing going on. Even up until the 1970s, homosexuality was classed as a crime in The UK, but I can well imagine a lot of comments like, "Of course he's a bit Queer, old chap, but he fights like a lion! No other chap in The Regiment I'd want beside me against a horde of screaming Pathans."

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Unblinking

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I like to think that Mr Balfour, scratching away with his pencils at the drawing of the war machine at the end, completely gets what Mr Merryweather meant about living a life without sunlight and under his bristling moustaches is just quietly wishing he could say to his friend that it's ok and it doesn't bother him what he is.

I like it.

It's always seemed to me that there must have been a lot of that sort of thing going on. Even up until the 1970s, homosexuality was classed as a crime in The UK, but I can well imagine a lot of comments like, "Of course he's a bit Queer, old chap, but he fights like a lion! No other chap in The Regiment I'd want beside me against a horde of screaming Pathans."

I imagine that's probably true.  I like the concept that this is specifically what Balfor would say if forced to speak in that moment--seems plausible and supportable, but not inevitable.



bounceswoosh

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Reply #14 on: December 19, 2014, 04:38:18 PM
At the end there, was that a reference to Alan Turing? ... Just looked it up. Yes. Yes it was.

Wow. Nice catch!

That had totally passed me by. Very impressive both for the author to drop the hint and for your Sherlock Holmes like powers of deduction.
Thanks, both of you. For me, that reference made the story a million times better. It tied the events explicitly to the real world, where the young boy, the innocent, of the story will eventually kill himself in shame. A third way of dealing with the impossibility of the situation.

Yeah, well I saw it first, but Bounceswoosh's more practical footwear let her beat feet to the forum ahead of me. :P
Once again I wish this forum had a "like" button!



bounceswoosh

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I like to think that Mr Balfour, scratching away with his pencils at the drawing of the war machine at the end, completely gets what Mr Merryweather meant about living a life without sunlight and under his bristling moustaches is just quietly wishing he could say to his friend that it's ok and it doesn't bother him what he is.

I like it.

It's always seemed to me that there must have been a lot of that sort of thing going on. Even up until the 1970s, homosexuality was classed as a crime in The UK, but I can well imagine a lot of comments like, "Of course he's a bit Queer, old chap, but he fights like a lion! No other chap in The Regiment I'd want beside me against a horde of screaming Pathans."

I imagine that's probably true.  I like the concept that this is specifically what Balfor would say if forced to speak in that moment--seems plausible and supportable, but not inevitable.
Didn't Balfour specifically shut him down? I unfortunately thought it was clear that M was completely isolated.



DKT

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It's also suggested at the story's beginning that there's a secret Meriwether has kept from Balfour. I'd like to believe Balfour would be accepting of his friend, but his reaction to Castor at the end makes me dubious, sadly.

(In the Seth Rogen/James Franco cinematic adaptation that exists in my dreams, I suspect this might shift some.)


Varda

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This was a fantastic story--probably my favorite of the Balfour and Meriwether-verse. I've much enjoyed the comments here and learned a thing or two as well. Count me as another who missed the Turing reference! Like Kibitzer, I got a Holmesian-meets-Lovecraft vibe from the whole thing, like a more horrific version of "Hound of the Baskervilles", plus some fascinating social commentary. And the ending made me tear up and wish someone would give Meriwether a big hug and a listening ear. Poor guy. :-(

I really enjoyed Dave's insights in the intro about steampunk as a means to examine the fiction of yesteryear and both reclaim the best parts while  critiquing the less-savory elements that sometimes make older fiction harder to enjoy nowadays. I think Abraham's story hit the sweet spot in this: it really did capture the fun of the period, but didn't require me to do any strenuous compartmentalization along the way. It's a story you can really sink all the way into.

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It took me a long time to really get into this episode.  I listened to it on a road trip this past weekend, so my lack of focus may have been because of that, but once I finally caught on to what was happening I enjoyed it to the end.

Is it weird to say that I found the denouement more satisfying than the rest of the story?  Yes, the adventure with the underground dog-bugs (dugs? bogs?) was exciting, and, since this was my first Balfour and Meriwether story, the two heroes' prowess in dealing with all challenges was pretty delightful; heck, even Meriwether's coming out to Castor at the end was very moving (perhaps I wasn't listening closely enough earlier in the story, but I do find it a little strange that Meriwether would go for a full-on snog as his way of confession; I didn't pick up on anything that might have suggested he was attracted to Castor, and without that detail I find myself wondering if the scene is problematic in suggesting that any two gay men will instantly find each other attractive based purely on their knowledge of each other's sexuality).  But for me, it was the discussion of empire that turned the whole story on its head and made everything before it more interesting and not just a send-up of Victorian adventure.

I think I was most impressed by the parallel between how England allied with the dugs (definitely going with dugs) out of convenience despite being repelled by their nature and the same alliance that Meriwether made with Castor in order to save Balfour and Winters.  There's some interesting subtext here related to disliking those things in others that we recognize in ourselves, and I wonder if the point is supposed to be that England is not only wrong for using the dugs like this, but also in denial about its own political nature.  Perhaps if England could have acknowledged that it was dealing with a sovereign nation that had its own ambitions, then maybe the alliance could have been more amicable rather than utilitarian.  I suspect that's the reason Meriwether and Castor part on decent terms, where England and the dugs end up going to secret war.
« Last Edit: December 23, 2014, 01:47:40 PM by jkjones21 »

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bounceswoosh

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I agree with you that there was a possible implication that any two gay men would be attracted to each other. I'd forgotten about that; thanks for reminding me. Not just that M goes in for the kiss, but that it's reciprocated. Then again, they probably haven't been exposed to discussions about the necessity of establishing consent ...

Maybe it would have been a better story if M's orientation, and attraction to C, had been foreshadowed just the tiniest bit. You lose the surprise, but I think that's okay.

This happens all the time with hetero people in fiction, though. Guy and girl are disgusted by each other; some event happens; guy kisses girl; girl begins to respond mid kiss.



danooli

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Doesn't Merriweather remark that Caster is a handome man a number of times?



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You're probably right about that.  Like I said, I was on a road trip while I was listening, and I didn't give the story my full attention until the last third.  If that's the case then it makes Meriwether's confession make better sense, though we still would need to contend with Castor's reaction, given that Meriwether's been an ass to him throughout the story, and now suddenly he's stealing kisses.

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Wilson Fowlie

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I enjoyed this episode as well, though I disagree, Dave, that serializing the story would make your podcast any "lesser". Ahem.

I do find it a little strange that Meriwether would go for a full-on snog as his way of confession; I didn't pick up on anything that might have suggested he was attracted to Castor, and without that detail I find myself wondering if the scene is problematic in suggesting that any two gay men will instantly find each other attractive based purely on their knowledge of each other's sexuality).

I had a similar reaction to the kiss. I guess I can appreciate that it was the most direct and efficient way to communicate Meriwether's own 'inversion' (what a horrible term) and (I guess?) his attraction to Castor (the allusions to which I'd also forgotten about - thanks for the reminder, Danooli) and he didn't have much time if Castor was going to be able to get away and disappear, but I think that particular approach says quite a bit - not necessarily good - about Meriwether's approach to life in general: shoot first and ask questions later.

Yes, the adventure with the underground dog-bugs (dugs? bogs?) was exciting, ...
I think I was most impressed by the parallel between how England allied with the dugs (definitely going with dugs)

I wouldn't.

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Varda

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Yes, the adventure with the underground dog-bugs (dugs? bogs?) was exciting, ...
I think I was most impressed by the parallel between how England allied with the dugs (definitely going with dugs)

I wouldn't.


I dunno. There's also this Dug.:


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DKT

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I enjoyed this episode as well, though I disagree, Dave, that serializing the story would make your podcast any "lesser". Ahem.

To be clear, I was mostly joking about that. Serializing stories is totally cool on podcasts. We've done that before, and it's worked out fine. I just don't think it would've worked as well for this particular story.


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I enjoyed this episode as well, though I disagree, Dave, that serializing the story would make your podcast any "lesser". Ahem.

To be clear, I was mostly joking about that. Serializing stories is totally cool on podcasts. We've done that before, and it's worked out fine. I just don't think it would've worked as well for this particular story.

Fair enough. : )

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I just don't think it would've worked as well for this particular story.

Agreed. 

I found that both the bit you warned us about and the framing story were hard enough to follow when I had to split it across 3 sessions in 2 days.   I can't imagine what it would have been like over 3 weeks.



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This was a good story, and the action-driven focus helped keep the pacing clicking along so that the giant-ness of the episode was not daunting. I like how everything was cinched together tightly by the end. What could have been rambling and uncomfortable in lesser hands becomes a tight package worth unpacking in greater depth upon additional visits.


As to the story, well. Fabulous. This one struck me as the most Holmesian (in tone) so far. For me, it evoked that Doylesian flavour of late 1800's London at every turn. Mix that with a Lovecraftian horror (something Holmes never encountered in the canon) and you have a perfect tale of adventure, intrigue and derring-do.


Considering the major story elements, this could comfortably have been published in Weird Tales. Not only does it bring in Doyle, but also comfortably draws in Lovecraft and Howard. There are tonal resonances with stories like The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Rats in the Walls, as well as The Worms of the Earth and Solomon Kane, and the major themes of the dream cycle works of both authors. I really like that this story draws in all these influences and does them homage without feeling the need to point out to us that there is homage and response.

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Devoted135

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That was seriously epic. :) I'm so glad to have gotten another Balfour and Meriwether tale! As a side note, I saved it for a roadtrip (my first solo one in years) and it turned out to be a really dark/rainy day. So that added to the ambiance. :)



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and without that detail I find myself wondering if the scene is problematic in suggesting that any two gay men will instantly find each other attractive based purely on their knowledge of each other's sexuality).  

That did cross my mind as well, and I wondered whether it should bother me, but in the end I was okay with it because I don't think Meriweather HAS to find him attractive or vice versa for the full-on snog to work as a form of communication.  Meriwether has repressed that side of himself for a long time, and communicating in this way allows him to release some of his own internal tension by letting himself do what he wants to do, and he feels more free to do so with this particular man because he already knows the man is a "monster" like himself so is in no position to out Meriwether to the general public and also at least theoretically might find him attractive.  It also allows him to get the message across without ever actually having to say "I am like you", even though his actions say it just the same.

I'm not saying it was the best way for him to send the message across, and that is in large part because Meriweather has found it impossible to accept that part of himself as anything but sinful and without accepting himself in that way he can't learn to accept someone else in that way,  but I found it plausible and I didn't think that the presence of this element in the story implied in any way that two gay men will automatically be attracted to each other.



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As expected, this was a lot of fun. Unexpected was the other darker sociological elements- but also good. I admit when the great tentacled monster was coming up the well I thought, "Cthulu, is that you?"  ;D I appreciated the sort of great amalgamation of Victorian horror elements. Good times.

As for the "inversion" issue. Well, that certain added another layer. I think it was handled well, and the tag at the end was particularly poignant. As for the kiss, my way of thinking was that I was a girl pretending to be a dude on Dude Island, and some dude who was being exiled for liking girls was leaving AND knew I was a girl? I would soooooo give him a nice smackeroo or two. My one and only chance to feel that kind of love? Yep. Would go for it. Not that I would be "in love", just needing love.

Anyway, can't wait for the next time Balfour and Meriwether come calling on my feed.

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albionmoonlight

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What a fun series.  This was my first exposure to Balfour and Meriwether.

The way that Meriwether's homosexuality played out was, as others have noted, very well done.

I also, however, liked the story when I thought that Meriwether was not homosexual and was just matter-of-factly stating his honest belief that it was an abomination and a sin.  We have a tendency in our contemporary writing to make our heroes and protagonists adopt contemporary attitudes toward social issues, even if those attitudes would be extreme outliers in their time and place.

I totally get why we do that.  Having our heroes be casually racist, or homophobic, or ok with slavery or whatever else is jarring and makes them harder for a 2015 audience to like.*  But I also do not know if we should always run from that.  Realizing that really good people could honestly hold (what to us are) really horrible beliefs makes it easier for us to question the beliefs that we hold today.  When we think things like "no good person would have ever been homophobic," we dismiss just how easy it was for "good people" to hold those beliefs back in the day.

*For a good example of the jarring nature of this, look at the Lord Peter books by Dorothy Sayers.  Lord Peter is as likable and heroic a hero as you could want.  But he's also casually and openly anti-Semitic.  And it throws you for a hell of a loop every time you see it. 
 



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But I also do not know if we should always run from that.  Realizing that really good people could honestly hold (what to us are) really horrible beliefs makes it easier for us to question the beliefs that we hold today. 

I like that way of looking at it.  Even today I talk to acquaintances and relatives who I consider very good people and then something wildly racist or sexist or religionist pops out of their mouth in the course of what is otherwise an enjoyable conversation--floors me every time, and I never know what to do about it, but it reminds me that it's possible for a person to be relatable in almost every way but to still hold some beliefs that I consider absolutely abhorrent.



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Oh man! You should have seen my face when merriweather kissed castor! Did not see it coming and I was grinning ear to ear. Fantastic flipping story, my new fave podcastle episode. What a bunch of kickass dudes man. The whole thing start to finish, loved every bit! Loved the adventure and loved the action and I barley even noticed the social commentary or historical or whatever type of commentary it was, and thats how you know it's been done right.

Now I must track down the other two Balfour and Merriweather stories, anyone know what episodes they are?



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Oh man! You should have seen my face when merriweather kissed castor! Did not see it coming and I was grinning ear to ear. Fantastic flipping story, my new fave podcastle episode. What a bunch of kickass dudes man. The whole thing start to finish, loved every bit! Loved the adventure and loved the action and I barley even noticed the social commentary or historical or whatever type of commentary it was, and thats how you know it's been done right.

Now I must track down the other two Balfour and Merriweather stories, anyone know what episodes they are?

PodCastle 138: Balfour And Meriwether In The Adventure Of The Emperor’s Vengeance
http://podcastle.org/2011/01/04/podcastle-138-balfour-and-meriwether-in-the-adventure-of-the-emperors-vengeance/

PodCastle 191: Balfour And Meriwether In The Vampire Of Kabul
http://podcastle.org/2012/01/10/podcastle-191-balfour-and-meriwether-in-the-vampire-of-kabul/

(these were pretty easy to find by just searching for "Balfour" on the Podcastle home page)



c210344

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Been working my way through the B&Ms - they're all good but this one was by far my favourite, I think the length was justified.

Regarding M's homosexuality and attraction to Castor, doesn't he say, in the interview at the sanitarium, "Like you, I am what I am"? At that point, the reader/listener thinks M means he is a servant of Crown & Church and, as such he views Castor''s sexuality as an abomination but what he really means is "I'M GAY TOO!" [EDIT] not that that means he should be automatically attracted to him, of course, but as someone said up above, the description of Castor does suggest that! [EDIT OVER]

I like the fact that we are gradually learning more about this pair with each episode, I think an "origin story" story would spoil things!
« Last Edit: February 20, 2015, 11:06:45 AM by c210344 »