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Congratulations to the winners of the Podcastle flash fiction contest!

Author Topic: PC018: Illuminated Dragon  (Read 32755 times)

SarahP

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Reply #25 on: August 06, 2008, 02:12:38 PM
Greetings!  I'm psyched that the story has generated discussion.  It's raised questions about the purpose of art which, given the story itself, seem particularly apropos. 

As I said in the comments to the podcast (http://podcastle.org/2008/07/29/pc018-the-illuminated-dragon/), there's no agenda.  It's a story, not a treatise. 




Void Munashii

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Reply #26 on: August 06, 2008, 03:05:26 PM
Greetings!  I'm psyched that the story has generated discussion.  It's raised questions about the purpose of art which, given the story itself, seem particularly apropos. 

As I said in the comments to the podcast (http://podcastle.org/2008/07/29/pc018-the-illuminated-dragon/), there's no agenda.  It's a story, not a treatise. 

  I found your comments on the blog quite interesting.

  I think that part of the problem is that we live in a world where seemingly everything has some sort of agenda to it. We now have entire cable news networks that are known for slanting the news one way or the other to fit their political agenda, and as a result of this people expect to see a political agenda in everything.

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It’s not my story, it’s the reader’s.

  That is both the gift and the curse of writing; regardless of what one does or does not intend to say it's ultimately up to the reader to decide what it means to them. The reader sees what the reader sees, and even if you tell them that was not the intention that does not necessarily change what the reader sees, as once something is seen it cannot be unseen.

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zZzacha

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Reply #27 on: August 06, 2008, 06:08:47 PM
This story I liked ... only at the end. I found the story so sad, with all the books and images being destroyed, the little dragon getting killed, I kept waiting for the magic that would make it all better, because to me, a fantasy story cannot be this sad. In all that sadness, the ending really lifted me up and gave me hope. Dragons and paint save the day! Again!

Still, the whole story left me kinda sad - with a small Dragonly hope for better days.

As for the 'deeper meaning' of stories, I never think about what agendas a writer did or didn't put into a story. As a matter of fact, most of the times those 'deeper meanings' fly right by me. To me, it's mostly tough enough to keep my mind with the story itself, let alone think about extra layers and agendas. So I suck up the story and wallow in it. I love being taken away from _this_ world for a moment and not being occupied with agendas, politics and so on.

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Changwasteve

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Reply #28 on: August 08, 2008, 02:34:13 AM
I believe Sara when she says she had no agenda, but I still can't help but see the story as anti-rationalist.  Someone resolve this cognitive dissonance quickly before my head explodes  ???



Windup

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Reply #29 on: August 08, 2008, 05:17:11 AM

I believe Sara when she says she had no agenda, but I still can't help but see the story as anti-rationalist.  Someone resolve this cognitive dissonance quickly before my head explodes  ???


Lie down and repeat to yourself: "Labels do not always mean what they say, especially when talking about political parties."
Continue until the dissonance goes away...

All better??

"My whole job is in the space between 'should be' and 'is.' It's a big space."


deflective

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Reply #30 on: August 08, 2008, 06:57:42 AM
i had some thoughts on this that seemed to make sense.

As I said in the comments to the podcast, there's no agenda.  It's a story, not a treatise.

looking at SarahP's submition to the flash fiction contest she appears to like to draw influence from other stories into her short fiction. this is definitely a valid technique, you have limited space to work with and invoking well known tropes can quickly set a scene so that you can get to the action.

unfortunately, when she invokes those images she seems to be using only the parts she wants and ignoring parts that don't fit. without some indication that she's doing this readers will try to fit the entire trope into the plot and have unintended results.

How one interprets the story will be inflected by whether one is inclined to see atheism or materialism as favoring dogma over reality. For a materialist, the resonance may come as JoeFitz indicates, by looking at the Spanish Inquisition where the church attempted to disprove heretical but true beliefs with the cleansing of blood. For someone religious, the analogy may look more like rationalists denying the evidence of spiritual beauty due to their a priori assumption of materialism.

It is entirely possible to read this story as a critique of religion, or as a critique of materialism. I happen to know which the author intended, having discussed it with her.

scientific rationalists are commonly used as antagonists in religious fiction (i'm thinking of the speculative fiction section of christian bookstore). they can act exactly as portrayed here, actively denying objective evidence of miracles because (in a fictional world) that's what their philosophy demands. it should be unsurprising that invoking these antagonists in a story could cause readers to find a political message.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #31 on: August 08, 2008, 08:07:38 AM
Quote
they can act exactly as portrayed here, actively denying objective evidence of miracles because (in a fictional world) that's what their philosophy demands.

Absolutely.

Posters here may be aware that I'm a materialist and an atheist. However, my initial reading of the piece was close to Ocicat's.

Personally, I still think the story works like an optical illusion, though. You can look at it with one eye and get it to support the religious narrative you mention, or you can squint and see a picture of a young woman who's indicting the Spanish Inquisition. That's just my feeling, of course.



Changwasteve

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Reply #32 on: August 09, 2008, 04:56:49 AM
Quote
looking at SarahP's submition to the flash fiction contest she appears to like to draw influence from other stories into her short fiction. this is definitely a valid technique, you have limited space to work with and invoking well known tropes can quickly set a scene so that you can get to the action.

unfortunately, when she invokes those images she seems to be using only the parts she wants and ignoring parts that don't fit. without some indication that she's doing this readers will try to fit the entire trope into the plot and have unintended results.


So she's not taking up the banner of anti-rationalism, she's using an old conflict to quickly set the scene for a fun story in the same way that directors re-use movie sets without intending to allude to previous films.  This explanation makes a lot of sense to me.  It also implies that she writes these stories at arm's length.  This isn't bad or good, just something I had not considered before.



Loz

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Reply #33 on: August 13, 2008, 09:44:20 AM
I thought it was okay, however, not being given any information at all about what the Men of Truth believed, I don't think it was unfair to assume that they believed they were being rational as the dictionary defines it. I really needed an explanation for why they saw all forms of art as irrational. The advantage of religious tyrannies in fiction is that there is a lot of real-life examples from which you can begin to construct such a society, ultra-rationalist societies? Not so much, as any attempts tend to collapse into mirrors of religion with cult of personalities.

Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.



stePH

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Reply #34 on: August 13, 2008, 01:17:12 PM
I thought it was okay, however, not being given any information at all about what the Men of Truth believed, I don't think it was unfair to assume that they believed they were being rational as the dictionary defines it. I really needed an explanation for why they saw all forms of art as irrational.

Probably an extreme interpretation of "thou shalt not make graven images" or sumshit.

Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.
I think they don't really believe that magic doesn't exist; they just want to stamp it out.  It's power they're after, plain and simple.

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DKT

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Reply #35 on: August 13, 2008, 03:35:53 PM
Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.
I think they don't really believe that magic doesn't exist; they just want to stamp it out.  It's power they're after, plain and simple.

I thought this was an extremely important aspect of the story and for me, it's why I don't buy that the Rationalists are really rational.  I mean, without hesitation, without any kind of awe at seeing the magic he claimed to disbelieve, the Rationalist sees the dragon and snaps its neck.  Without a second thought.  Absolutely cold.  He knew there was magic.  He just hated it.


Void Munashii

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Reply #36 on: August 13, 2008, 09:03:07 PM
Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.
I think they don't really believe that magic doesn't exist; they just want to stamp it out.  It's power they're after, plain and simple.

I thought this was an extremely important aspect of the story and for me, it's why I don't buy that the Rationalists are really rational.  I mean, without hesitation, without any kind of awe at seeing the magic he claimed to disbelieve, the Rationalist sees the dragon and snaps its neck.  Without a second thought.  Absolutely cold.  He knew there was magic.  He just hated it.

  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.

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eytanz

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Reply #37 on: August 13, 2008, 09:27:28 PM
  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.

Communists?

... Anyway, it's worthwhile noting that they didn't call themselves "rationals", they called themselves "rationalists". The "-ist" suffix can often alter the meaning of words it attaches to...



Roney

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Reply #38 on: August 13, 2008, 09:43:23 PM
He knew there was magic.  He just hated it.

This is where I could see their self-identification as Rationalists coming from.  It is all about power, and their power was the simple physical power of carrying the bigger stick.  Put this up against other measurable, predictable power and you can know in advance whether you will prevail, with a fairly high degree of confidence.

Magic really tends to screw with this world-view.  It makes life -- including the outcome of conflict -- irrational and unpredictable.  The Rationalists wanted to remove all the wildcards from the deck.

Fortunately, Fantasy teaches us that magic can never be eliminated in this way, and pushed to the edge of extinction it will only erupt more chaotically.  As this heart-warming tale confirmed.



Void Munashii

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Reply #39 on: August 13, 2008, 11:49:43 PM
  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.

Communists?

... Anyway, it's worthwhile noting that they didn't call themselves "rationals", they called themselves "rationalists". The "-ist" suffix can often alter the meaning of words it attaches to...

  I had not thought of that one, that does seem like one of the least likely to start an argument while still being a perfect example. Thank you

  I suppose the "ist" can change the meaning (most the of them examples I was coming up with were not ists), but I do not think it changes the meaningt much in the mind of the person using that label to describe themself.

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Windup

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Reply #40 on: August 14, 2008, 04:20:20 AM

  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.


Well, you could note that, as generations of history teachers have exhausted themselves saying, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.  And I doubt anybody with internet access would argue that the label People's Democratic Republic of Korea is accurate prior to the "of." 

And considering recent financial events you could probably get away with joining Slate in observing that the Royal Bank of Scotland is neither royal, nor Scottish, nor apparently, much of a bank....

"My whole job is in the space between 'should be' and 'is.' It's a big space."


eytanz

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Reply #41 on: August 14, 2008, 07:26:24 AM
  I suppose the "ist" can change the meaning (most the of them examples I was coming up with were not ists), but I do not think it changes the meaningt much in the mind of the person using that label to describe themself.

Not in the minds of those who come up with the term, no. Their successors, though, are a whole different story.

One thing worth noting about the story is that we don't know what sparked the "rationalist" movement. We get to see magic from the perspective of a kindly old man who has survived because he was unthreatening. Maybe others were using magic in ways that were less pleasant for the people around them. I can easily imagine a backstory to the rationalists which starts with a group of philosophers/scientists thinking "magic is unpredictable and dangerous, and over-emphasis on magic has kept our society back. We should push the magic-users from power and rule based on reliable science" - that may be an entirely rational line of thought. It is also one that can very quickly become "let's exterminate all magic and all art because art leads to magic", which is not rational in any way.



yicheng

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Reply #42 on: August 18, 2008, 05:29:13 PM
For me, this story was powerful for deeply personal reasons.  Elements of the story, for me (at least), brought back images of the Cultural Revolution in Communist China when anyone with ties to the west, religion, chinese feudal traditions, or just had the bad luck of being on someone's shit list, could be rounded up, beat up, publicly humiliated, tortured, killed, or sent to a labor camp for decades.  Anyone that was intellectual, a dissident, an english speaker, an artist, a monk, a homosexual, a christian, came from a bad political background, visited a foreign country, had money, had political enemies, or just didn't raise their little red books fast enough was rounded up.  Perhaps people in more developed worlds can hide behind Starbuck's Lattes and snarky attitudes, and construct some abstract treatise on how "enlightened" or non-religious people could/would never do this sort of thing.  I happen to know from first-hand accounts that this is not only plausible, but it can happen, and it has happened many times. 

My grandmother was a target of political struggle because, as a widowed mother in a male-dominated confucian society, the only job she could get was teaching Japanese during the Manchurian occupation.  My father was under suspicion of being a western spy because he liked to tinker with amateur radios.  My mother was sent down to the countryside, away from her family at 13 to work in the fields for no good reason than Mao said so.  I could go on and go.  My father happens to be good friends with a traditional chinese artist, Jinqing Cao (who's work is famous in China and Japan) who was barred from painting for 14 years because one of his paintings (of an owl) was interpreted by the politburo as being politically subversive.  If you walk through any city in China and talk to people in the age 55 to 75 demographic, they'll tell you a million stories like this.  There are a few movies that address this uncomfortable time in chinese history: To Live, The Blue Kite, Farewell My Concubine, etc, but I fear most of modern China has cast that memory aside in favor of making money as fast as humanly possible.

For my 2 cents, Prineas was spot on with her stories.  The destruction of bookshops, smashing of windows, and exculpating of pictures from books was something the Red Guards did on a regular basis.  And the final scene of Rafe painting a dragon with his own blood...  using his life as a last gesture of rebellion...  Wow!!!  That part just made my speechless.  In the chinese literary tradition to write something in blood was a powerful statement and oath, of sincerity so pure that you were literally sacrificing your own life to make it.

Gorgeous and poignant story, all in all, and definitely my all time favorite Podcastle to date.



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Reply #43 on: August 25, 2008, 11:11:34 PM
A discussion on Athism, Mao, and language that began in this thread has been split and moved here: http://forum.escapeartists.info/index.php?topic=1899.0

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


Talia

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Reply #44 on: September 05, 2008, 01:45:44 PM
Just found this image and thought it was relevant ;)
No clue on who made it, I'm afraid.




zZzacha

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Reply #45 on: September 05, 2008, 05:05:02 PM
Just found this image and thought it was relevant ;)
No clue on who made it, I'm afraid.

WoW. That dragon is awesome! So cute and he looks so... knowing.
I wonder who breeds them and how I can get one.. That would be awesome, a cute little dragon tickeling my shoulder with his tiny claws. And when someone asks if I have a lighter, I will scare the holy craps out of them when I send my dragon over.

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Sandikal

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Reply #46 on: September 06, 2008, 02:35:56 AM
That picture is so cute!



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Reply #47 on: September 06, 2008, 03:21:06 PM
so cute! The wee little dragon picture has me enchanted. I'd bet tho- that overfeeding leads to terrible things. 

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Reply #48 on: January 07, 2010, 06:49:57 PM
I liked this story and didn't see it as message-driven at all (if I had I doubt I would've liked it).  The world and the conflict was set up well, and the resolution with the blood dragon was outstanding!  It had crossed my mind to wonder why no one had thought to use the beasties as weapons before, but I suspect that this may be closely related to the question of how the Rationalist movement got started in this world.  It might've started when a magician got out of control and used his magic to conquer or kill, and so if the remaining magicians were to rampage as they so easily could it would only serve to strengthen the numbers of the Rationalists because so many more would be afraid of the magicians.  This man wouldn't even consider it under normal circumstances because he too may be afraid of the violence that had come before, and any magicians with violent tendencies likely got his head bashed in a long time ago.

I didn't see a problem with the "Rationalist" label in the story.  Remember that the label is what they call themselves, it's nothing but a propoganda tool, like a dictator calling his country "The People's Republic" despite the fact that nothing is really done by the government with the masses in mind.  By calling myself a Rationalist, that implies that anyone who opposes me is irrational and potentially dangerous, thus helping to justify brutal oppression.

I definitely don't see it as an argument for religion vs. magic.  If anything, I would argue the exact opposite.  The magic in this story is measurable, visible, clearly present, and could be measured in various ways, making the magicians more like scientists.  The rationalists, on the other hand, rely upon their faith that magic doesn't exist despite obvious evidence that it does exist.