Author Topic: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These  (Read 2462 times)

Talia

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PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« on: January 02, 2015, 01:18:23 PM »
PodCastle 344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These

“The Problem With Other Worlds,” by Nick Scorza
Read by Dave Thompson

A PodCastle Original!

At the bottom of an old boarded-up well is the world you really come from.  You were plucked from it as a child, and all the miseries of your life, all the ways the world you know does not fit you, are a consequence of this.

“Paperheart,” by Tina Connolly
Read by M.K. Hobson

Originally published in Bibliotheca Fantastica, ed Claude Lalumiere & Don Pizarro

After his wife died, the magician stayed in his library for three days with the door barred. Purple smoke poured from the chimney and something that might have been salt tears came in a trickle out of the windowsill, as the magician forbade water, even his own, anywhere near his books. When the three days passed, the magician came forth dry-eyed and forbade anyone to mention her name again.

“Portal Worlds and Your Child (A Parent’s Guide),” by Matt Mikalatos
Read by Peter Wood

Originally published in Daily Science Fiction. Read it here!

Warning Signs. One in every 250 children experiences inter-dimensional travel before the age of 18. Siblings and cousins are 40% more likely to enter another dimension than single children. If you discover your child hiding medieval items (crowns, trumpets, tapestries, chastity belts, swords, etc.), take action immediately. Likewise, if potential magical artifacts are found (uncommon rings, buttons, feathers, etc.), confiscate the item and talk to your child. Watch for imaginary friends, talking animals or strange behaviors (avoiding sidewalk cracks, fear of open closets, obsessively locking bedroom windows, etc.).

Rated PG!

For further explorations into different worlds and escapism, we highly recommend reading or listening to our own LaShawn M. Wanak’s 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One). We think it’s pretty incredible.

Happy New Year!

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!


Unblinking

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2015, 03:24:25 PM »
I'm a big fan of portal worlds, so this episode was a home run for me.

The Problem With Other Worlds
I thought this story captured well the feeling that everyone feels to some degree or another--the feeling of displacement, of not belonging.  Even though it doesn't offer a solution it does offer a cause--you are different because you REALLY ARE special, you're just special in the wrong place.

Paperheart
I thought this one had a lot of interesting images in it, but I found it a little hard to follow for some reason.

Portal Worlds and Your Child (A Parent’s Guide)
I enjoyed the alternate format of this, written as a self-help book kind of thing, I liked the recurring example, and that it addressed the problem that I've wondered about for many years about these alternate world stories--when the kids come back from the other world where they are treated as royalty, how do they cope with the sudden normality and mundanity of their everyday life?

Varda

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2015, 01:40:07 PM »
This was a great set of stories on an interesting topic. I especially loved the first one, which struck me as equal parts wistful and dark. Wistful because, as Unblinking says, it's about this idea that everyone would be special, if only we found the world we were made for. Dark, because it made me think of how, to a degree, portal world fantasies are a little selfish and narcissistic. I was especially struck by a line about a civilization of men and women who are unambiguously evil and cruel, who it's right to fight against. And it made me wonder what it says about us, that we can and do invent whole groups of people in our fiction whose purpose is to be "safe" to hate and want to fight against. It's an interesting idea, since in real life, there really is no such thing as a whole people group that's unambiguously evil by nature of belonging to their group (see also: Tolkien orcs).

I thought the second story was a very sensual piece of fiction. Something about the magician running his hands over the book-woman's arms. Very much full of beauty and longing, a lovely sensory piece about grief and escapism.

And the final story was quite dark, in a Grimm's fairytale sort of way. Portal world stories really are pretty vicious and scary, when you connect them to real life, and especially parents wanting to protect their kids from serious harm. It's an interesting subgenre, in that it invites you to imagine that the things happening really COULD happen to a child you know (or to yourself, if you're a child). Almost science fiction-like, in that respect.
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Unblinking

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2015, 03:20:13 PM »
I was especially struck by a line about a civilization of men and women who are unambiguously evil and cruel, who it's right to fight against. And it made me wonder what it says about us, that we can and do invent whole groups of people in our fiction whose purpose is to be "safe" to hate and want to fight against. It's an interesting idea, since in real life, there really is no such thing as a whole people group that's unambiguously evil by nature of belonging to their group (see also: Tolkien orcs).

I forget where I read this, but I read something interesting talking about the ethics of using Nazis as villains in fiction because no one feels bad for them.  It said something along the lines that it's not necessarily the killing of Nazis that's troubling, but the fact that these characters were only made to be Nazis to justify their disposability by the content creators.  I wish I could remember where I saw it, it was interesting to think about the ethics of worldbuilding and fictionmaking.

Fenrix

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2015, 06:02:50 PM »
This collection had me musing over the discussions on escapism and fantasy.

“That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge ‘escape.’ I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me this simple question, ’What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers.”

C.S.Lewis “On Science Fiction”
All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”

Devoted135

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2015, 08:08:27 PM »
Fenrix, that's a fantastic quote. :)

I had a hard time relating to the first story, and thus it didn't really resonate with me. The second story was great, very poignant. And the third stuck in my mind the best. I enjoyed it both for its format and the lightly ominous tone that it strikes. Yay for flash extravaganzas!

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2015, 03:54:35 PM »
This collection had me musing over the discussions on escapism and fantasy.

“That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge ‘escape.’ I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me this simple question, ’What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers.”

C.S.Lewis “On Science Fiction”

Great quote. 

I've never seen a problem with escapism.  Whether you're trying to get away from a frustrating or depressing day or just trying to find a way to frame your thoughts to deal with everyday life, there is so much value in it.

Sgarre1

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2015, 07:59:11 PM »
As might be expected, I have a more complicated opinion on this, so I guess this can be my now-annual single long post. There is, of course, more to this than just good guy/bad guy - my apologies to both Mr. Lewis and Mr. Tolkien, and my apologies to the forum for a dreary and heavy response to a light-hearted discussion.  For those with little time, here's the cut to the ending:

My response to Lewis (and Tolkien) would be (as it is with many such statements):

"Yeah...maybe...but...both you guys are smarter than that..."

and here's the long version:

It's a pithy quote (if glib, but then quotes are the memes of yesteryear!) but the argument re: escapism goes back to the realism/naturalism vs. genre/fantasy arguments from a time when people and artists still believed that creative output could actually change minds and opinions in the real world, in real time/history, to real immediate effect - for the "better" or at least towards an ideology (of course your opponent is the one with an "ideology", you always just have a common-sense idea) - and so fiction that emphasized the fantastic (not in a basic way, as it had always been a part of writing from the beginning, I'm talking in a mass-scale way, churn-it-out genre production - "sensation novels", "penny-dreadfuls", "dime novels" written to specifically target and sell to a cultivated demand) was seen as betraying these higher goals through distraction, repetition and quotidian reassurance (ironically enough, that latter is the same charge that popular writing of the time undergoes currently, but this from a more "enlightened", but generally entertainment/fantasy-friendly critical establishment). You might not agree with that idea but there it is - not the machinations of blue-meanie ivory-tower authoritarians (as Lewis then "fully understood it" - so no mediation there) but the then-current manifestation of a discussion/argument that had been ongoing (in different forms as each expression mode and cultural monopoly was expanded/replaced) since at least the end of the 18th Century. Lewis probably hated that this realist/important vs. fantastic/escapist argument was being voiced at that moment (and was in its ascendancy) by those of a political bent different than his own, but then if it was a century earlier his own Christian-themed writing would have been the one in the cultural driver's seat and he would have been just as intolerant of the scandalous, spiritually-degrading Gothic novel, no doubt.

And, hey, Lewis and Tolkien won, right? While the current stressing of examination of cultural privilege in our mass entertainments might bring some of the actual, complicated arguments from the beginnings of Modernism (that I'm just glossing here - Is simple entertainment a valid goal? What are the creator's responsibilities to a culture? etc.) back into focus in the cultural arena, I kind of doubt it - the primary birthright of Western Culture is endless entertainment (read escapism): we want our sugary breakfast cereal (sometimes with bran flakes in it, true, so we can feel good about it, but generally sweet, enjoyable and with an immediate rush, although followed by a crash, empty calories, and an addictive desire for repetition) - and rarely our healthy oatmeal (which, when daringly tasted, is surprisingly good and nourishing, but mostly lacking an immediate rush and complex enough to forestall an addictive desire for immediate repetition) and we want it almost all the time (on 800 channels, in HD, on our phone). And those who produce the cereal that sells the most will be rewarded the most (sadly, this mindset has now bled into our news and reporting - see Neil Postman AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH). Anyone that tries to suggest a balanced deployment of cereal to oatmeal ratio is an ivory tower elitist, a snob, a literati or just ignorant of some dismissive postmodern "theory adopted as easy truth" (the late 20th/early 21st century has succeeded in nothing else if not the art of reducing an opponent's argument to pithy memes and buzzwords, the better to ignore said argument and keep consuming) because such a person makes us question our choices. And since our second birthright is, of course, the right to never feel bad about anything we enjoy, never doubt it, never be unsure ("I may not know art, but I know what I like" is presented as the default statement, when it's really only half of the equation, in my opinion), this is verboten.

Put another way, I didn't believe the professors who told me genre fiction was crap (actually, in truth, I never met one who held this position, but I guess they are out there) but I didn't believe the lazy and disgruntled genre authors (or fans) who tried to convince me Lit was just a boring, elitist sham, either. This has not presaged an easy existence for me (although, oddly, it has made me perfectly suited to be an editor - whodathunk it?). There is much use and value in Escapism, and there is much use and value in Art - and there is much danger and waste in both as well (but perhaps not equally?) and much intellectual danger and cultural waste in lazy blanket statements.  I love Genre and I love Literature (yes, I do believe they exist and are reasonably separate things) and if people could get beyond the easy reductions encapsulated in the vaguest echoes of these century-old arguments and actually engage the ideas being presented about the uses and values of creation, engage them as being valid for consideration and respect (if not automatic agreement with), we would all be much better off (for one thing, genre writers wouldn't find themselves re-inventing the wheel, or repeating themselves, quite so much - but then that reduces output of product, and product is undervalued in the current market, so more needs to be produced, not less....). It all really comes down to personal, subjective aesthetic philosophies anyway, and very little "truth" - but examining inconsistencies in personal philosophies is always the most uncomfortable of pursuits.

But then, this whole post is TLDR, professorial, didactic and over-thought, and thus ignorable. [Insert cute movie reference gif here - but not *too* obscure or old...].  So....

My response to Lewis (and Tolkien) would be (as it is with many such statements):

"Yeah...maybe...but...both you guys are smarter than that..."
« Last Edit: January 27, 2015, 09:54:00 PM by Sgarre1 »

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2015, 06:57:27 PM »
Shawn--I can't say I disagree with anything you said.  As with any short quote it's reductionist out of necessity, conveying a big idea in few words but not covering every aspect of it. 


Sgarre1

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2015, 07:09:11 PM »
I realize I could have saved myself (and everyone else, God bless them) some time if I'd thought of this first:

I'd probably have been just as disgruntled by an anecdote in which Zola tells Gorky that those who are always bored with the mundane and seek the fantastic obviously lack imagination.

Why fight battles from over a hundred years ago? Is there some kind of naturalist/realist dominance of the market I'm missing? Doesn't HARRY POTTER outsell Solzhenitsyn? If Lit's eternal curse is arrogance, Genre's eternal curse is surely insecurity...

albionmoonlight

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Re: PC344: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Other Worlds Than These
« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2015, 02:09:05 PM »
The first story touched on an aspect of escapism that I've noticed.  When we wish that we were in other worlds, we always wish that we were in charge there.  Or at least in a position of great importance.  We never imagine ourselves as a peasant.  We picture ourselves as a knight.

What we want to escape, I think, isn't so much the real world.  We want to escape a world where we lack great importance.  And it is easier to go there by changing the entire setting.