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Author Topic: PC434: The Ghost Years  (Read 1828 times)


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on: September 20, 2016, 11:59:42 PM
PodCastle 434: The Ghost Years

by Nghi Vo

read by Tatiana Gomberg

The year I turned ten, the war almost ended. The Chinese army fell back beyond the northern border of Cao Bằng, leaving behind thousands of widows, wide swathes of burned ground, and their great war bells in their haste.

These bells were of the ancient kind, tongueless but elegant and struck with enormous logs swung from their own frames. They filled the battlefield with sonorous thunder, and the crews that manned them were said to be fanatical, as devoted to their bells as they never were to their commanders. They were left sinking in the black mud along the border, and the Resplendent PhoenixArmy brought back news of their silence. We don’t know what happened to their crews.

There was talk of melting them down, perhaps into a war memorial, but the bells, two hundred or more scattered along Vietnam’s long northern border, were still in disputed territory. Besides, the war was not over yet. We all knew that. The bells stayed, silent and dreaming in the mire.

Click here to continue reading.

A PodCastle original!

Rated PG-13.

Nghi Vo lives on the shores of Lake Michigan, and her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Expanded Horizons, Crossed Genres and Icarus Magazine. She likes stories about things that fall through the cracks and live on the edges, and she has a deep love for tales of revolution (personal and political), transfiguration and transmutation. She’s a writer by trade, a storyteller by nature, a volunteer by inclination, and a dreamer by design.

Your narrator is Tatiana Gomberg. Tatiana Gomberg is a New York City-based actress of stage, screen, and of course, the audio booth. Follow her on Twitter @tatianamae.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: October 05, 2016, 02:14:20 AM by Talia »


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Reply #1 on: September 21, 2016, 01:49:46 PM
'The Vietnamese are born from the marriage of a dragon from the sea and a goddess from the mountain. They lived together for 100 years...'
This story's powerful underpinning of Vietnamese culture, history and lore weaves a net around me as a listener, really immersing me in the feel of belonging to the culture so that the idea of peer pressure so strong that it can change your own memory, never mind your mind, becomes not only believable but totally relatable. Masterfully done.
As a side note, I just found Podcast two weeks ago, and I've binge listened to these stories nonstop since. You have something really amazing here. Thank you!


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Reply #2 on: September 21, 2016, 10:35:19 PM
Thanks @OtterChild, welcome to the forums! Glad you liked this one.

You may have seen our "New to PodCastle?" page but if not, here it is:

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Reply #3 on: September 24, 2016, 07:34:00 PM
Really enjoyed this one.  A strong narrative voice and rich setting helped center me in the story.  The ending satisfied.  Well done.


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Reply #4 on: September 29, 2016, 05:55:23 PM
Quite enjoyed this one, and the central conceit of mourning a person who you are certain never existed because the others around you are doing so is an interesting and compelling basis for a story.


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Reply #5 on: September 29, 2016, 10:27:34 PM
I loved this story, though I had to forcibly dismiss the skeptic in me who wanted to say the protagonist had forgotten her brother out of grief and the visit to the bell started the healing process. Begone ye foul skeptic! Skeptics have no place evaluating fantasy fiction! (Also, skeptics are boring and their mothers dress them funny.)

My preferred interpretation settled on this: The war bells were a most unique and peculiar necromantic tool: One that did not merely call back the spirits of the dead, but summoned them into existence in the first place, knitting them into this world with all the myriad of consequences this implies.

What consequences you ask? Well consider the white cat. Did we hear one word about this cat before the protagonist remembered her brother saving it? We did not. One might easily presume that there was no cat until the ghost brother was made real by remembrance. Now suddenly the family has had a cat for years. But every human lifetime has a plethora of consequences like this one. How very many things may have changed far into the past because a ghost who did not previously exist has now been made real along with his past.

But what a terrible and unpredictable weapon of war these bells would be. No doubt the bell keepers wished to conjure the memories of soldiers on their own side. Soldiers who died heroically serving their own cause. But once unleashed, these forces echo across the countryside, raising the spirits not just on one side, but both, altering the past again and again in complex ways that perhaps no mere mortals could contain or direct. We never do find out what happened to the bell's fanatical keepers. Could their own magic have been their undoing? Did they fall victim to now fallen heroes who died striking down the enemy bell keepers? It may be impossible to ever know for sure.

I do know however that I loved this particular plot device that made a beautiful and memorably original story.


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Reply #6 on: October 15, 2016, 02:05:07 AM
I was so flabbergasted for the MC that her whole family was mourning a brother she never had. It didn't make any sense to either her or me! So, I'm still pretty skeptical about the war bells; not about their obvious abilities, but about whether they are a force for good or ill. It doesn't seem to me that causing dead war heroes to come into existence would lead to a net benefit for the society. I hadn't considered all of the butterfly effects that Anoton115 raised, but that just makes me even more convinced that they would be better off without the war bells.