Escape Artists

News:

  • Congratulations to the winners of the Podcastle flash fiction contest!

News

Congratulations to the winners of the Podcastle flash fiction contest!

Author Topic: PC341, Giant Episode: Balfour And Meriwether In The Incident Of The Harrowmoor D  (Read 9851 times)

Ocicat

  • Castle Watchcat
  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 3636
  • Anything for a Weird Life
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

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
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

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 2
What a treat, a new Balfour and Meriwether and a giant Episode as well.



danooli

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 1743
    • Who Doesn't Love Stories?
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

  • Friendly Neighborhood
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4980
  • PodCastle is my Co-Pilot
    • Psalms & Hymns & Spiritual Noir
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

  • Purveyor of Unsolicited Opinions
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2228
  • Kibitzer: A meddler who offers unwanted advice
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

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 116
    • MCL & Me
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

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 116
    • MCL & Me
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

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 116
    • MCL & Me
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

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
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

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1388
  • Will there be sugar after the rebellion?
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

Fresh slush - Shot this morning in the Vale of COW


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
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

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1388
  • Will there be sugar after the rebellion?
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."

Fresh slush - Shot this morning in the Vale of COW


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
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

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
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

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
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

  • Friendly Neighborhood
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4980
  • PodCastle is my Co-Pilot
    • Psalms & Hymns & Spiritual Noir
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

  • Rebound
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2710
  • Definitely not an android.
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.

Medical Microfiction: Stories About Science
http://rckjones.wordpress.com


jkjones21

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 821
  • Fiend of borderline obssessives.
    • Catchy Title Goes Here
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 »

Jason Jones
http://jkjones21blog.wordpress.com

I'm a Cage, he's a Cage, she's a Cage, 'cause we're all Cage!


bounceswoosh

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
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

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 1743
    • Who Doesn't Love Stories?
Doesn't Merriweather remark that Caster is a handome man a number of times?



jkjones21

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 821
  • Fiend of borderline obssessives.
    • Catchy Title Goes Here
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.

Jason Jones
http://jkjones21blog.wordpress.com

I'm a Cage, he's a Cage, she's a Cage, 'cause we're all Cage!


Wilson Fowlie

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1474
    • The Maple Leaf Singers
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.

"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham


Varda

  • Rebound
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2710
  • Definitely not an android.
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.:


Medical Microfiction: Stories About Science
http://rckjones.wordpress.com


DKT

  • Friendly Neighborhood
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4980
  • PodCastle is my Co-Pilot
    • Psalms & Hymns & Spiritual Noir
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.