Author Topic: PC263: Beyond the Shrinking World  (Read 11665 times)

Talia

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on: June 05, 2013, 01:23:11 PM
PodCastle 263: Beyond the Shrinking World

by Nathaniel Katz.

Read by Dominick Rabrun, of Dom’s Sketch Cast. Check out his show that features this week's episode here!

Originally appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #102, August 23, 2012. Read the text there.

“Bring my prisoner,” I said and none dared question, not a knight and Scholar-Practitioner so august as I. They knew the glyph carved into the base of my tongue kept me from lying.

The guards brought the being that called himself Jani in his stolen flesh. Cuts ran down his flank, long and precise, a still-living carcass torn open reach at it soul. In his eyes, spirit blues cavorted round stuck-wide pupils. I can take you Outside, he’d said, at our first meeting. Can bring you to the Mapmaker. At the time, I’d responded with drawn sword and assault, my Out-blade slipping through his dark flesh but halting at the spirit, parasitic, within. His legs bore testament to those wounds; shallow but immeasurable.

“Dress him,” I said. “We need to be on our way.”

The Lord hesitated, and procedure won out. “I’ll need to see papers, Sir Rollus,” he said.

Make it bloody, the Lady Clarissa, ruler of this world and all men in it, had told me. Leave no doubts.


Rated R for violence.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: June 26, 2013, 07:33:35 PM by Talia »



Cynandre

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Reply #1 on: June 06, 2013, 02:24:16 AM
Does the Godspeaker Series by Karen Miller count as Grim Dark. I have no idea.

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Moritz

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Reply #2 on: June 06, 2013, 10:33:40 AM
I generally liked the story, although I have to admit that I needed to listen to it twice to really get what was going on. I think I mixed up Clarissa and the Map-Maker the first time.

As a native speaker of German, the German in the story bugged me a bit. First of all, it made those people "German" and not "foreign" to me, secondly, of course there were grammar mistakes... argh. Why does German in specular fiction always have to be that bad? There are literally thousands of German fantasy fans out there who speak English and will be happy to translate for an author. Another example why the German bugged me is the strange food the protagonist had. An "Auster" he learned... well, that's just German for oyster. Don't call a rabbit a smeerp!

About the violence: well, there was a lot of offhand violence in there but as a veteran reader of "grimdark" fiction - in my early twenties I couldn't get enough of pseudo-"edgy" stuff just for its own sake - I think wasn't overdone and I'd rather call this story "dark fantasy".



DKT

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Reply #3 on: June 06, 2013, 02:23:58 PM
Just to be clear, I was being serious when I said I don't really consider this story GrimDark. (Though I realize I did say that thing about rainbows directly afterward.) I think dark fantasy is as accurate a description as any.

That said, I'm not entirely sure I've actually read a GrimDark novel. At least, not the fantasy version of it. What Abercrombie stuff I've read (very little) was brutal but fun. G.R.R.M. slaughters his characters like no one else can, and makes all of them so very flawed, but those books (thus far) are also laced with hope, kindness, and redemption - so much brighter for all the darkness? The only Richard K. Morgan books I've read are the SF ones (I should fix that). So...open to suggestions :)

Additional note: Dom's Sketch Cast for this story will probably go live at the end of the week - I'll make sure and post a link when it does :)


Cynandre

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Reply #4 on: June 06, 2013, 08:56:38 PM
This is what I got out of this Tale.

“Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.”
― Martha Moody

 It was not as dark as I thought it would be. I also loved the Ending. I thought it was the best course of action. :)

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evrgrn_monster

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Reply #5 on: June 06, 2013, 11:01:23 PM
This one was a bit disappointing for me. For me, the problem seemed to be one of scope. The world was too big and complicated for a short story. If this had been just a slice of life piece, like a person fighting to live their life in a world being eaten away, but nothing more, I think I would've been able to actually appreciate the creative and stunningly dark world the author was crafting. Instead, I was distracted from the actual chaos of the world with the huge plot that was being unraveled; it was just too much in too little time. In addition, I was confused at time with the motivations of the hero. I liked his combination of naivety and decisiveness, but, again, his actions were lost amid the descriptions and politics of this new landscape, and I was just left feeling a little muddled.

On the other hand, I did think the descriptions in this story were quite good. The MapMaker especially was well fleshed out with her shifting colors and other-worldliness. There was one line where the author described someone looking as if they had honey instead of blood running through their veins. I loved that line, instantly put a picture in my head. Also, that last line was gold.

The narrator was a hit and miss. He was a bit monotonous in the beginning, although he certainly found his footing as the story got on, and his accents were not going over well for me. He seemed to mumble through that dialogue. Much kudos to the effect on the MapMaker's voice. Subtle, but packed quite a punch.


Tim Tylor

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Reply #6 on: June 08, 2013, 03:21:37 PM
On the call for "Grimdark" examples: I'm not sure if either of these writers would use the label, but anyway...
The Magekiller Stories by "Dark Icon". I don't know if these have been published anywhere off the writer's site, but I think they're worth a look; decently written and imaginative dark fantasies set in a world of magic gone rottenly off.
Alec Austin's Blood Remembers and Casualties. Different worlds and scenarios, the first medieval-European type setting and the second rather dark-Harrypotterish, but both centering round a protagonist and friends resorting to ruthless extremes to stop the "Big Bad".



Francejackal

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Reply #7 on: June 09, 2013, 02:50:31 AM
This one left me entirely listless and drooling I'm afraid. I have to agree that it was a bit much to cram into a short piece. The lack of background or context put me off a bit as well. Not for me. On the subject of 'Grimdark', I can't say that much comes to mind. Although, I can think of nothing more grim or dark than the works of J.R. Hamentaschen. If you haven't read his story Wonder, that is DARK.



littlepossum

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Reply #8 on: June 09, 2013, 11:53:46 AM
I don't know if I would say that I've ever read a fantasy story that I'd call grimdark, even Abercrombie.

Although some of the things Robin Hobb does to her characters does make me want huddle under a blankie and cry myself to sleep.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #9 on: June 09, 2013, 04:14:54 PM
1) Re: the story - I enjoyed the first two thirds of it, in a (pardon the expression) grim, dark sort of way, but I thought the last part, where our "hero" transitions into the realm of the Mapmaker and does his thing to be a little muddled. Had to listen twice to get a solid understanding. Interesting setting, but I also agree that the amount of world(s) was hard to justice to in a short story. I really like the Out-blade, though.

2) On the subject of "grimdark" - guess I'm not plugged in enough to have heard about this, but I can see where it comes from (I can also see where Abercrombie would want to "own" it, even tongue-in-cheek, given his recent dust-up on the subject on the subject of the dark screwed up protagonist). 

I think, firstly it's an argument as old as Plato, and secondly it strikes to the root of why people read fiction  - realism vs. idealism. We know full well there are awful people in the world who rape, steal, murder and (if possible) worse, and we know it's happened throughout human history, certainly in times of swords and doublets. But as story readers and listeners, we WANT our happy ending, our noble hero, our good guy who's selfless, who achieves the quest and saves the girl (boy is perfectly fine too). This is an old tension. On an emotional level, we want our fairy-tale ending, and "serious" authors (oh, let's say Abercrombie, Woodring Stover, and Martin) want to remind us that the world just doesn't work that way. I think the best example is very simple - in the original novel Game of Thrones, one lowborn fighter bests and kills a noble knight, and is then criticized for not "fighting with honor", and (quite rightly, IMHO) says "no, but he did".

It reminds me of a remark of Elliot Smith about how "if you grow up with yelling in your house, the last thing you want to do is make records with yelling" and it makes me wonder if the practictioners of "grimdark" - if there are any or if it's even a "thing" - didn't come from nice safe wholesome households and writing against that... or the fans thereof.

And of course there's nothing peculiar to Fantasy about this conflict - this is true in Science Fiction, and Westerns for that matter.



EscapeLee

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Reply #10 on: June 10, 2013, 01:49:11 AM
I listened to it twice, but still had to read the written story for myself before I was really confident of what was going on.* 

Also, I didn't love the German accent - partly for the reasons other have expressed, and partly because I would have expected (for example) the word "Kriegsflotte" to be pronounced with three syllables [kreegz-flot-tuh].  I found the accent more distracting than helpful.

But it's an interesting world.  Let's hope some of the surviving locations will work on improving the Placement Stone technology and learn to keep out the Out indefinitely. 




-------
FN* There is actually one part of the text that I found a bit ambiguous:

 “It is true,” Jani, now back at the Mapmaker’s side, said. “Every word of his tale is reality.”

Knights cannot lie; wisdom that all knew. But he could—he’d cut those truth-telling runes from his tongue with the Lady Clarissa’s blessing, and those wounds bled red invisible as he spoke his deception.


(Ultimately, I concluded that "he" refers to Rollus rather than Jani)



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #11 on: June 10, 2013, 02:54:05 AM
So...open to suggestions :)

I'd say Matthew Woodring Stover's Acts of Caine series would qualify. Probably. They're also the best Sci-Fi - Fantasy meld I've read.



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Reply #12 on: June 10, 2013, 04:52:18 AM
Just wanted to let you all know - Dom Rabrun's show for this episode is now live!

I'll go ahead and adjust the top post as well :)


Moritz

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Reply #13 on: June 10, 2013, 06:51:44 AM
was anyone else reminded of the Neverending story? The Out kind of felt like "the Nothing"...



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Reply #14 on: June 10, 2013, 12:13:25 PM
I didn't find myself drawn into this tale, unfortunately.

The reader sounds like he could've grown up on the same block as Patrick Bazile, which is a plus. His style tended to go down the scale toward the end of each sentence, which reminded me of a news anchor I used to know named Rod Johnson (yes, really).

I don't think I read a lot of grimdark (I keep typing "grimlock"), but, I mean, you don't get grimmer or more visceral/phantasmagoric than China Mieville's Bas-Lag series -- and "Embassytown" has some of that too.

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chemistryguy

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Reply #15 on: June 10, 2013, 01:16:25 PM
was anyone else reminded of the Neverending story? The Out kind of felt like "the Nothing"...

The story eluded to that with a touch of "Pirates of Darkwater".  To those of you who missed that Hanna-Barbera gem from 1991, you're probably better off.


Tim Tylor

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Reply #16 on: June 11, 2013, 03:16:23 PM
was anyone else reminded of the Neverending story? The Out kind of felt like "the Nothing"...

Me too. Also the doomed eroding world-fragments of Marie Brennan's Driftwood, or the "thinnies" in Stephen King's Gunslinger cycle. It's an effective nightmare, the idea of finding your world or reality unravelling or rotting away, and I wouldn't be surprised to find quite a few writers running with it.



Fenrix

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Reply #17 on: June 12, 2013, 12:25:19 AM
was anyone else reminded of the Neverending story? The Out kind of felt like "the Nothing"...

The story eluded to that with a touch of "Pirates of Darkwater".  To those of you who missed that Hanna-Barbera gem from 1991, you're probably better off.

Why? Because of the total lack of closure?

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


Fenrix

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Reply #18 on: June 12, 2013, 12:26:19 AM
BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #19 on: June 12, 2013, 10:49:21 AM
I had a lot of difficulty listening to this.
I got lost in the words that had a plural s, words that had 's and words that had s' ("...the Outs advance"? Out's? Outs'?). And not being able to properly hear the proper nouns made it very difficult to distinguish between made up words for the story, and German/foreign words (The word is Kriegsflotte, I heard Creeps Float, or maybe Creep's Float, or perhaps Creeps' Float). Reading it in Beneath Ceaseless Skies I see now that the problem (with the s's) was not the reading, but some typos.
Quote
Cuts ran down his flank, long and precise, a still-living carcass torn open reach at it soul.
See what I mean?
I eventually got it that Out was a proper noun, but still wasn't sure whether it meant a person, a group of people, a state of being or something else entirely.

Anyway, I gave up listening 20 minutes in and read the rest.

Overall I thought the story was fine, if a little bit underdone. It could use some fleshing out and become a full fledged novel easily. Like others have said, the scope of this story is too big for a short story format.
That being said I was enthralled and entranced throughout, so that's a win. Although the characters were all a bit weak. I didn't feel that I had any emotional investment in an of them. Probably due to the lack of space in the short story.

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Reply #20 on: June 12, 2013, 03:00:19 PM
Did the shrinking world remind anyone else of Marie Brennan's Driftwood setting?

I generally enjoyed the story.  There were some parts in the middle that I drifted in and out, but I liked the idea of the encroaching Out, the knight using this very decay to make himself a demigod of a fighter, the mapmaker who saves worlds by destroying the life on them. 

I don't agree that it was too much for a short story.  It's too much to explore FULLY in a short, sure.  But a short that explores one character and a subset of a setting is totally fine with me.  But there's no reason there can't be a novel, also.



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Reply #21 on: June 12, 2013, 03:13:33 PM

I don't agree that it was too much for a short story.  It's too much to explore FULLY in a short, sure.  But a short that explores one character and a subset of a setting is totally fine with me.  But there's no reason there can't be a novel, also.

FWIW, I'm a big fan of stories where the world feels fully realized, and yet at the same time - also feels like we've only scratched the surface of what's there. When I get to the end of a story, I love to feel like there's much more waiting out there to be explored. (This is true of characters as well.) It's a difficult balance to maintain, but when an author can pull it off, I swoon :)



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Reply #22 on: June 13, 2013, 12:59:39 PM
Oh yeah, and on the subject of grimdark, I've never heard of the term before this episode.  To me it sounds like the usage (based on the explanation here) is meant to be a perjorative adjective toward a specific subset of the genre, and so I suspect is one that writers generally wouldn't self-identify with.  Kind of like "tortureporn" subgenre of horror--if I call something tortureporn, people know what I mean, but I've never heard an author claim to write it.



Moritz

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Reply #23 on: June 13, 2013, 06:00:46 PM
Oh yeah, and on the subject of grimdark, I've never heard of the term before this episode.  To me it sounds like the usage (based on the explanation here) is meant to be a perjorative adjective toward a specific subset of the genre, and so I suspect is one that writers generally wouldn't self-identify with.  Kind of like "tortureporn" subgenre of horror--if I call something tortureporn, people know what I mean, but I've never heard an author claim to write it.

I usually heard "grimdark" - and it mostly referred to Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K universe - used in an affectionate ironic way. (erm... I mean in the sense of "I know it's bad but I still like it, maybe even because it's bad")



Francejackal

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Reply #24 on: June 18, 2013, 06:39:54 AM

The story eluded to that with a touch of "Pirates of Darkwater".  To those of you who missed that Hanna-Barbera gem from 1991, you're probably better off.


Oh my dear god you are right... It took me a moment to recall that travesty.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2013, 06:57:03 AM by Francejackal »