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Author Topic: Pseudopod 450: The Horse Lord  (Read 5704 times)

Bdoomed

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on: August 08, 2015, 09:39:36 PM
Pseudopod 450: The Horse Lord

by Lisa Tuttle

The Horse Lord” was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in June 1977 and included in A NEST OF NIGHTMARES. This collection was first published in 1986 by Sphere Books and is now available as an e-book from Jo Fletcher Books; it is also included in STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, a collection of her early supernatural fiction published as a limited edition hardcover by Ash-Tree Press in 2010.

Lisa Tuttle began her career as a published writer in the early 1970s, and won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer of the year in 1974. She’s the author of seven novels and more than a hundred short stories. Born and raised in Texas, she has lived in a remote, rural part of Scotland for the past twenty-five years. Her first novel, Windhaven, was a collaboration with George R. R. Martin published in 1981. This was followed by a horror novel, Familiar Spirit, in 1983. Unable to stick to one well-defined genre, although most of her work features elements of horror and/or dark fantasy, she went on to write novels of psychological suspense (Gabriel and The Pillow Friend), science fiction (Lost Futures), and contemporary/mythic fantasy (The Mysteries and The Silver Bough) as well as books for children and young adults, and non-fiction (Encyclopedia of Feminism and Heroines).

Short stories were her first love, and remain important. Her first short story collection, A Nest of Nightmares was published in the U.K. in 1986, and two years later featured in Horror: 100 Best Books edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. Her other collections include A Spaceship Built of Stone and other stories (1987), Memories of the Body: Tales of Desire and Transformation (1992), Ghosts and Other Lovers (2002) and Objects in Dreams (2012). A number of her short stories have appeared in “best of the year” anthologies and been nominated for awards; “Closet Dreams” won the 2007 International Horror Guild Award. She edited an influential anthology of horror stories by women writers, Skin of the Soul, first published in 1990.

She has just finished a new novel, to be published next year: THE CURIOUS AFFAIR OF THE SOMNAMBULIST AND THE PSYCHIC THIEF — this is the start of a new detective series set in London in the 1890s. If you want a taste of what is to come, check out her stories in both the Rogues and Down These Strange Streets anthologies and follow her author page on Facebook.

Your narrator this week is Christiana Ellis who is a Writer and podcaster living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of Nina Kimberly the Merciless as well as Space Casey. She also produces several non-fiction podcasts and videos that can all be found at Christianaellis.com. Most recent project is Space Casey Season 2, the sequel to the original audiodrama about a con artist in the future, which can be found on Podiobooks.com and SpaceCasey.com



The double barn doors were secured by a length of stout, rust-encrusted chain, fastened with an old padlock.

Marilyn hefted the lock with one hand and tugged at the chain, which did not give. She looked up at the splintering grey wood of the doors and wondered how the children had got in.

Dusting red powder from her hands, Marilyn strolled around the side of the old barn. Dead leaves and dying grasses crunched beneath her sneakered feet, and she hunched her shoulders against the chill in the wind.

‘There’s plenty of room for horses,’ Kelly had said the night before at dinner. ‘There’s a perfect barn. You can’t say it would be impractical to keep a horse here.’ Kelly was Derek’s daughter, eleven years old and mad about horses.

This barn had been used as a stable, Marilyn thought, and could be again. Why not get Kelly a horse? And why not one for herself as well? As a girl, Marilyn had ridden in Central Park. She stared down the length of the barn: for some reason, the door to each stall had been tightly boarded shut.





Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


zoanon

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Reply #1 on: August 09, 2015, 03:13:12 AM
not for me.
I have very low tolerance for the "Indian burial ground" trope so I turned it off after the two braves showed up.



Scuba Man

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Reply #2 on: August 09, 2015, 03:17:11 AM
What made me go 'meh'...   :-\
I was getting a 1970s vibe from the narrative.  I caught myself rolling my eyes a couple of times during the character's narrative.  I was imagining the lurid covers I remember from such 70-80s horror pulp at the local Zellers and Woolco.

What made me go 'heh'...  :)
As the story progressed, I found myself muttering aloud that "there's something NASTY in the woodshed".  When the protagonist looks down to see the circle of possessed children looking up to her, that did send a chill up my spine.  And the happy (no, not really) ending made was a glorious cliche.

"What can do that to a man?  Lightning... napalm? No, some people just explode [sic]. Natural causes".  Source: Repo Man.


Scuba Man

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Reply #3 on: August 09, 2015, 03:22:52 AM
not for me.
I have very low tolerance for the "Indian burial ground" trope so I turned it off after the two braves showed up.



Ooooh, you missed many other cliches.   ;D Yeah, it got a bit thick with the stereotypes.

"What can do that to a man?  Lightning... napalm? No, some people just explode [sic]. Natural causes".  Source: Repo Man.


Fenrix

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Reply #4 on: August 09, 2015, 04:41:24 AM
Not an Indian curse or burial ground. A warning of something that was there before man.

Tuttle has a scholarly awareness of the recurring themes in the many styles of horror, and knows just where to apply torque. I read this as a revisitation of the Magic Native and Indian Burial Ground with subversion. The story within the story drives that point. At the end of it all, everything you thought you knew is wrong.

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bounceswoosh

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Reply #5 on: August 12, 2015, 05:14:20 AM
It bothered me that only one child was named, whereas the rest were just "the children." I kept wandering out of the story to ponder whether this was an authorial choice to limit complexity. It felt artificial. I can't buy the idea that she never thought of any of the others by name.



starktheground

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Reply #6 on: August 12, 2015, 04:15:43 PM
I enjoyed this story. I'm new to podcasts, and was surprised how easy it was to fall into the story without looking at printed text. The story itself wasn't wildly original, but I loved the atmosphere of the story and really felt myself transported from my kitchen to this desolate and cursed place.



Metalsludge

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Reply #7 on: August 12, 2015, 10:36:59 PM
Felt reminiscent of Bradbury's Zero Hour, but without that story's thoughtfulness about childhood. As such, one could certainly see where it was going, but without enough atmosphere or deeper themes to make up for it, which bothered me more than the indian warnings trope.

Kids being regarded a bit like animals was an idea that could perhaps have been expanded on though. I'm reminded of the Ender's Game quote: "They have a name for us, it's "children", and they treat us like mice." But the story doesn't quite explore that concept more fully.

I enjoyed the finding of the drawing of the being, and the very boarded up barn. It just wasn't enough to elevate the story for me though.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #8 on: August 13, 2015, 03:53:36 AM
I was all set to be the only negativity on this thread - I'm glad I'm not alone.

I mean, what's not to like? Let's see...

 • "Indian curses" are done to death.
 • The characters were pretty flat, and it felt like the POV character was carrying the stupid ball. I didn't get the impression that the kids all arrived yesterday. She didn't act like an adult struggling to deal with suddenly having a houseful of children largely raised by someone else - she acted like a vaguely poleaxed sheep, just kind of drifting around vaguely.
 • The "Indian curse" trope is hella racist (I'm not saying that the author is racist, I'm saying that the trope is racist and we should stop using it1)
 • The description and narration were, generally, pretty bland. I didn't have a clear idea of what anyone looked like or what anyone sounded like. For all that the climate and terrain was important to the main character's mental state, I didn't really have a clear idea what it looked like. I didn't even know how old the older daughter was.
 • Relatedly, for all that the POV character's relationship with her new family situation is central to her industry-standard horror story sense of alienation, that relationship was all tell-don't-show. She tells us that she feels a lot of tension with her oldest daughter, for example, but we don't ever see any of that relationship.
 • I am, personally, sick to death of the ancient Indian curse trope.
 • I thought that this story was - surprisingly - actually pretty weak on craft. The narrative was full of pretty cliché descriptions, the kind that sound really good at first, but don't actually communicate any information about the character's visceral, physical sensation of her emotion: like a blade of ice, frozen in a block of ice, etc. Similarly - and this was odd because I usually don't notice this sort of thing in audio - there were a number of awkwardly repeated words.
 • The pacing was pretty awkward as well. The explication in the early middle dragged. The ending was way too telegraphed, and not in the "this is awesome and inevitable watch as the pitiful mortal struggles against her fate" sort of way. More in the "oh, just get on with it" way. I might have felt differently if the main character had done something, flailed, struggled... but all she did was mope around providing us with a window into the story.
 • The themes seem confused as well. For a curse that acts by making a subjugated thing turn against its masters, this family did very little "mastering" of their children. They seemed to just kind of run around doing whatever they like. In what way were these children treated like property, or like animals?
 • Finally... what the hell kind of writers are these people? They've got enough money that this woman can afford to just mope around the house for as long as the possession takes to stick, not actually getting any writing done, but somehow they don't have enough money that they can afford to... say... I don't know... sell this miserable house and buy a slightly smaller but still adequate house somewhere that isn't making the main character crazy? She's not doing any freelancing? No book contracts? Deadlines? This story was written by a person who is an actual writer, right?

Man... I actually haven't disliked a story as much as I disliked this one in a long while. I kept on listening because I thought "I trust Pseudopod, there's no way they'd make me listen to a story that's as bad as this one seems to be, right? There's got to be a twist."

But there was no twist.

1) Unless you actually know what you are talking about, your story displays either clear research of or personal experience with Indian beliefs, and you avoid running headfirst into every possible demeaning trope you can find about indigenous peoples.

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Sgarre1

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Reply #9 on: August 13, 2015, 02:59:29 PM
Quote
I was all set to be the only negativity on this thread

So one could presume there was *something* you liked, or perceived as likeable about the story, since you assumed everyone else but you would like it?

Quote
This story was written by a person who is an actual writer, right?

For 47 years, yes. Won a few awards, as well. This one was from THE YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES volume 6 (1978)

Quote
I thought "I trust Pseudopod, there's no way they'd make me listen to a story that's as bad as this one seems to be, right? There's got to be a twist."

It's probably not a good idea to trust us that much.

I'm fairly comfortable now with my intention to, when I can (as on an anniversary), expose the audience to stories from different time periods, in different (and older) styles and subgenres, from POVs across the range of human experience and utilizing writing approaches not always in synch with that ever-changing standard known as "contemporary tastes". Call it a failing, but more likely it's a desperate attempt to mirror my own youthful experience of reading cheap paperbacks and bookmobile anthologies wherein moldy public domain classics rubbed shoulders with oddities from a range of (then) current magazines - an experience which still informs my thinking to this day.

I've said it before but it bears repeating - I would be astonished if there was anyone in our audience who could like *every* story we podcast.

Sorry the story was not to your taste. There's another due tomorrow.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2015, 07:19:54 PM by Sgarre1 »



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #10 on: August 13, 2015, 10:19:10 PM
Quote
I was all set to be the only negativity on this thread

So one could presume there was *something* you liked, or perceived as likeable about the story, since you assumed everyone else but you would like it?

Quote
This story was written by a person who is an actual writer, right?

For 47 years, yes. Won a few awards, as well. This one was from THE YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES volume 6 (1978)

Quote
I thought "I trust Pseudopod, there's no way they'd make me listen to a story that's as bad as this one seems to be, right? There's got to be a twist."

It's probably not a good idea to trust us that much.

I'm fairly comfortable now with my intention to, when I can (as on an anniversary), expose the audience to stories from different time periods, in different (and older) styles and subgenres, from POVs across the range of human experience and utilizing writing approaches not always in synch with that ever-changing standard known as "contemporary tastes". Call it a failing, but more likely it's a desperate attempt to mirror my own youthful experience of reading cheap paperbacks and bookmobile anthologies wherein moldy public domain classics rubbed shoulders with oddities from a range of (then) current magazines - an experience which still informs my thinking to this day.

I've said it before but it bears repeating - I would be astonished if there was anyone in our audience who could like *every* story we podcast.

Sorry the story was not to your taste. There's another due tomorrow.


Oh, yeah. No sweat. You win some - you lose some. I can't wait for the next attempt.

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kibitzer

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Reply #11 on: August 13, 2015, 11:10:56 PM
I think this story was a little more subtle than folks are giving it credit for, and it's being viewed through a modern lens, overloading it with tropes or meanings not necessarily present. F'rex, the "Indian curse" thing. I don't think this was an "Indian curse" so much as an Ancient Thing the Indians knew about.

But, YMMV. And, I AM Pseudopod staff so I may be a little biased. :) Anyway, I liked this one. I thought it was simple and clear, easy to follow, atmospheric and ended with a nasty threat. Nice.


TrishEM

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Reply #12 on: August 16, 2015, 09:31:50 AM
I haven't read Zero Hour, so the Bradbury I thought of was The Veldt. The moment when I thought of it was in the afternoon when she saw the children "playing horses" in the snow. And I, too, felt a chill when they looked up at the window that night and saw her.
I pity the poor truant inspector who'll eventually come calling.

I liked how the author played with some tropes, e.g. her husband referring to the half-remembered "Indian Curse" but when the wife digs into the history, it's actually that the Indians were trying to give a warning about the Old One there.

However, I was irritated with the wife's lack of initiative. She's already feeling quite uneasy, but she quits reading the house histories partway through. If it were me, I'd be trying to get all the information I could, even if viewed through the filter of family legend. She doesn't have to act like I would, of course, but I'd have liked more of a reason for her dull listlessness.



Unblinking

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Reply #13 on: August 17, 2015, 02:57:13 PM
This story didn't do much for me.  I was glad it didn't turn out to be an Indian burial ground, at least.  But I thought the twist was predictable and simultaneously not super plausible (as ElectricPaladin said the children didn't seem to be mastered in a way that fit with the supposed format of the curse).  Also as EP said, the writers didn't feel like writers, which is kindof weird because it was written by a writer.  When the twist was revealed at the end I think my reaction was a groan--I have read both Zero Hour and The Veldt as well, which I thought were both very effective that children turning scary can be.

Oh well, on to next week.



Scuba Man

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Reply #14 on: August 19, 2015, 12:39:45 PM
I haven't read Zero Hour, so the Bradbury I thought of was The Veldt. The moment when I thought of it was in the afternoon when she saw the children "playing horses" in the snow. And I, too, felt a chill when they looked up at the window that night and saw her.
I pity the poor truant inspector who'll eventually come calling.


Ah ha!  The Veldt.  Good call on that reference.

"What can do that to a man?  Lightning... napalm? No, some people just explode [sic]. Natural causes".  Source: Repo Man.


Maxilu

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Reply #15 on: August 20, 2015, 08:24:19 PM
I'm trying to think of something I like about this story. I'm coming up blank.

I grew up a quasi-farmgirl, and with insane allergies that meant that I couldn't be around horses, people who just rode horses, anything horses eat, and the ammonia in horse piss. Needless to say, I've never understood the appeal of horses to people, especially young girls. So, strike one, with the horse theme.

I don't like kids. It doesn't seem like Marylin does either. That being said, if I found myself the caregiver for five children, I'd make an effort to learn their names. And genders. And try to keep them from running wild.

And then there's the cursed land/Native American thing. I'm willing to give this as bit of leeway, as the whole thing has a very 1970's feel, before Native Rights were widely recognized as a thing. Still, as other has said, it feel lazy.

The image itself felt out of place in Upstate New York. I got the feeling that the author wanted to put the story on, say, the English Moors, or somewhere else in Europe, but didn't have the geographical knowledge to make it realistic.

It just all together fell flat. I had a hard time caring about the characters.

Though, kudos for a change of Pseudopod pace. One can handle only so many zombies, eldritch horror, and non-supernatural horror before canceling a subscription.



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Reply #16 on: August 23, 2015, 10:07:39 PM
I'm going to just pop in here and say listening to this story was like time traveling for me..... This came out in the Year's Best Horror when I was in second grade. I devoured anything scary that I could put my grubby little hands on. This took me right back to hanging out in the library - scary house, check; horses, check; ancient gods, check; mayhem, check. I am guessing that most of the commenters here are significantly younger than me, and had trouble connecting to the 70's vibe of the story. I felt like not naming the other children added to the "herd-like" image of them. I am also surprised by how many people took away Indian burial ground/curse from this story as opposed to the actual ancient creature/god-demands-sacrifice.



Sgarre1

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Reply #17 on: August 23, 2015, 11:23:57 PM
Quote
I'm going to just pop in here and say listening to this story was like time traveling for me..... This came out in the Year's Best Horror when I was in second grade. I devoured anything scary that I could put my grubby little hands on. This took me right back to hanging out in the library - scary house, check; horses, check; ancient gods, check; mayhem, check. I am guessing that most of the commenters here are significantly younger than me, and had trouble connecting to the 70's vibe of the story. I felt like not naming the other children added to the "herd-like" image of them. I am also surprised by how many people took away Indian burial ground/curse from this story as opposed to the actual ancient creature/god-demands-sacrifice.

Thanks.... this story, then, was for you and everyone of that age!



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Reply #18 on: August 26, 2015, 03:30:11 PM

The image itself felt out of place in Upstate New York. I got the feeling that the author wanted to put the story on, say, the English Moors, or somewhere else in Europe, but didn't have the geographical knowledge to make it realistic.


This past week I just spent some time driving through that chunk of country, and it's still not out of place to have old historic farm homes all over the place. Honestly, I was surprised at how fast civilization disappears outside Boston, Hartford, and New York City.

Also, one of the teen mysteries I devoured as a youngster was Trixie Belden, which involved an exurban community with horse farms and historic manors located in upstate New York.

Why does this seem out of place for Upstate New York for you?

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Maxilu

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Reply #19 on: August 27, 2015, 03:54:54 PM
The not-horse seems like it belongs with the Celts/Germanic Tribes/Indioeuopean peoples of ancient Europe, not the Native Americans. I'm thinking of the way that early Europeans actually considered horses sacred, as opposed to Native American views of "oh, cool, here's this new animal that we can ride and make carry stuff". (Granted, I know next to nothing about the Natives of Upstate New York, and their relationship to horses, or anything else, really)

However, if I think of the not-horse as, well, not a horse, and remember that New York is Lovecraft Country, then sure, I can grudgingly admit that it fits.

I wonder if the not-horse took it's shape from first the uncle's horses, then Kelly's longing for horses. I wonder if they were raising, say, dogs, the image would be a not-dog. Or cattle would make a not-cow. Or growing crops would make not-corn. That prospect makes the cursed land more unsettling to me.



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Reply #20 on: August 27, 2015, 08:34:54 PM

The not-horse seems like it belongs with the Celts/Germanic Tribes/Indioeuopean peoples of ancient Europe, not the Native Americans. I'm thinking of the way that early Europeans actually considered horses sacred, as opposed to Native American views of "oh, cool, here's this new animal that we can ride and make carry stuff". (Granted, I know next to nothing about the Natives of Upstate New York, and their relationship to horses, or anything else, really)

However, if I think of the not-horse as, well, not a horse, and remember that New York is Lovecraft Country, then sure, I can grudgingly admit that it fits.

I wonder if the not-horse took it's shape from first the uncle's horses, then Kelly's longing for horses. I wonder if they were raising, say, dogs, the image would be a not-dog. Or cattle would make a not-cow. Or growing crops would make not-corn. That prospect makes the cursed land more unsettling to me.


I agree with you. I don't think the Horse Lord is a horse, just like the Indian Burial Ground and Curse is neither a burial ground nor a curse (at least in the traditional tropey sense).

Elder things that need/want servants don't have to be constrained by the cultures that fear/worship them. Does the belief create the monster/god or does the monster/god shape the belief?

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