tablesaw: "Tablesaw Techniques" (Techniques)
As you would expect, zombie stories show up fairly regularly on Pseudopod. Two that stood out pretty clearly for me are "The Skull-Faced Boy" and "Association." I'm not a big fun of zombie stories (or movies or TV shows), but these two are some of my favorites, and were the first ones I wanted to tell people about when I started thinking about recommendations.

"The Skull-Faced Boy" aired in 2008 and I still remember it pretty clearly. A story of the risen dead who still retain a great deal of humanity, for better or for worse. It's a pretty wide-ranging story, with a cinematic feel to it: a nice variety of well-drawn characters and a slowly building plot. It was my favorite zombie story for a while.

It was supplanted in the top spot by "Association," which has a similar idea, but is definitely more to my taste. "Association" has the narrator tell the story of watching a zombie virus take over his body, watching himself die even though his mind remains lucid and alive. It's very disturbing, inspired by the author seeing people fail to communicate during the last moments of their life.

Pseudopod is one of my favorite podcasts, and it's currently going through some difficult financial times (it pays all of its authors for the stories it produces). If you enjoy these stories, please consider donating through the links on the website.

The Horror

Oct. 20th, 2013 03:03 pm
tablesaw: Futurama's Robot Devil, El Diablo Robotico (El Diablo Robotico)
I'm kind of a horror fan now. And though I'm pretty sure I know how, I'm not sure I know why.

The how is because of Pseudopod. I started listening to Pseudopod about 5 years ago after listening to Escape Pod and then Podcastle. After a while, Pseudopod became my favorite of the three. The stories were more reliably interesting, even when I didn't much care for them.

[personal profile] yeloson pointed out a quote that in a horror story, as opposed to a fantasy story, the rules and logic aren't consistent in terms of the story. Things don't happen because of reasons, they just happen, and the characters have to decide what they do about them. And those choices don't always have clear moral weights to attached to them. I've always liked sci-fi and fantasy for their ability to change reality to fit a story; horror focuses that much more closely, changing reality to point completely at the characters.

Through the same time, I started getting more interested in horror films. I've never much cared for "scary movies" because they usually didn't scare me much. I don't get much of a thrill out of gore or jumpscares. But I started to appreciate that, in trying to reach something specific in "horror," artists reveal something about themselves: what they fear and how they fear it.

And today, I'm excited about my second year of an all-night Halloween horror-movie marathon, last night, I went to see the Carrie remake on its opening night, and I'm going to be posting a bunch of recommendations for Pseudopod.

Apparently, Escape Artists, the group that produces Escapepod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod has been gaining many more listeners than subscribers, and is running something of an emergency fund drive. I've subscribed, and hopefully, I can get a few people interested in the show as well.
tablesaw: An indigenous American crucified on a cross crowned by a bald eagle. In the background stands a Mesoamerican temple. (América Tropical)
I used to do reviews of the Escape Artists podcasts. Maybe I should do that again. Recently, I've been meaning to post more, but the days slip by without me even noticing I haven't posted again. (On the other hand, my exercise is staying fairly regular, despite wisdom-tooth disruptions, so that's good.) But I really wanted to talk about one particular Podcastle episode I listened to last week. So I'll preface by saying that on the whole, the quality's been good from the shows that I was listening to (though I listen anywhere from a month to a year behind release, usually).

The story I was listening to on Monday was Podcastle 156, "Household Spirits" by C.S.E. Cooney (full text available at Strange Horizons, where it was originally published. I stopped listening halfway through.

Skipping episodes is actually common for me—due to audio issues, substandard performance, or stories that are simply not my cup of tea—not usually anything to remark upon. With "Household Spirits," though, I had to turn it off because of the relentless parade of tropes forwarding racism against Amerindians.

As I was listening to this story, I felt like I was ticking off a checklist, or filling in a bingo card, about how to use harmful racist imagery to not!Amerindians in science-fiction. I spent a while looking for such a checklist. I mean, there's got to be one, surely, what with Avatar, and all that. The best thing I could find actually wasn't related to speculative fiction, but was simply the criteria from How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias by Doris Seale, Beverly Slapin and Rosemary Gonzales, published online at Oyate.org.

Let's take one section:
In these hills called Seven Quails by the Kilquuts, back in those days there still was Kilquuts. Our ghost don't talk much. When he does, it's to Jessemee.

I shouldn't say ghost. Jessemee says the better word (just like you with your better words) is genius or numen. I've heard other words too, by other settlers. Ghoulog. Scabby. Shadekin.

Got to tell you, Del, to me it just looks like a boy.

His name, so far as I can coax one, is Mimo.

I know I got that wrong. There are other sounds in between the ones I can hear, but that's close enough for letter writing. Mimo looks a bit like this old Kilquut farmhouse we bought sight unseen. Skinny and leaning, with dirt on it so thick I don't reckon a bunch of bachelors like us'll ever get it scrubbed clean.
What can we check off?
  • Are Native peoples portrayed as . . . simple tribal people, now extinct?
  • Are there insulting overtones to the language in the book? Are racist adjectives used to refer to Indian peoples?
  • Are Native cultures presented in a condescending manner? Are there paternalistic distinctions between "them" and "us"?
  • Are Native peoples discussed in the past tense only, supporting the "vanished Indian" myth? Is the past unconnected to the present?
Or how about this:
About ten years ago, the Kilquut elders had a sit-down at their meetinghouse (big ramble of a place the Gladstones have overrun), and said, They're coming. We can't fight them. We can't become them. We can't leave.

The Kilquut argument, what Jess calls "their focal tenet" (which puts me in mind of you, Del, and those radical ideas you call religion), is that it's always better to die than kill. Easy way to wipe out your species, I say. I told you that before.

So the Kilquuts gathered themselves in a valley. All but the young'uns, who the elders hoped might grow up with no memory of how things'd been. Then the Kilquuts spoke some words they all knew, and the green lightning came down and killed them. The sky opened and poured a month straight, filling up that valley of the dead.
In addition to some things we've already checked off:
  • Are Native Nations presented as being responsible for their own "disappearance?"
  • Does the story encourage children to believe that Native peoples accepted defeats passively?
Continuing on:
After making sure Mimo was okay and not puking anymore, he went outside and cut a switch, then came back in and explained to Mimo, let's see if I can remember the words . . .

"Son, those arrows weren't rightly yours to . . . to . . ." Dad pointed at the green fire but couldn't say burn. "And someday, Mimo, maybe not tomorrow, but someday in the future, if I don't show you right now how it's wrong to break other people's things, it'll go bad for you."
Let's check off:
  • In modern times, are Indian people portrayed as childlike and helpless? Does a white authority figure – pastor, social worker, teacher- know better than Native people themselves what is "good for them?"
And this is just in the first half of the story before I turned it off. And it's not even all that was in the part I listened to. And Oyate doesn't have anything on their list about being magical.

It's not a new idea that there's a problem with speculative fiction writers who attempt to "subvert" or otherwise "neutralize" racist tropes by using their authorial control to make those tropes literally true in their world. So the Navi are literally connected to the earth. Patricia Wrede writes about pre-Columbian Americas that are literally "empty of people but full of dangerous animals, many of them magical." The beings that South Africa are subjecting to apartheid are literally insects. This is not subversion; this is entrenchment.

Finally, there's a general criterion on the Oyate list:
  • Is there anything in the story that would embarrass or hurt a Native child?
It's a question best answered by [personal profile] moniquill:
STORIES LIKE THIS HURT ME.

They hurt PEOPLE LIKE ME. The especially hurt CHILDEN LIKE ME. They hurt me because they are part of a cultural narrative that erases the reality of my existence. That claims that This is what NDNs were and Now they Are Gone isn't it Sad? But if our good readers had been there, OH IF ONLY THEY HAD BEEN THERE, they would have been some of the Good White People and would have Joined The Natives. Yes they would. Which neatly absolves them from having to think about the fact that their ancestors didn't and the lasting ramifications that has on native people living today. Everyone weeps cathartic tears and insists that they'd have helped the Na'vi fight to keep out the unobtamium miners, but precious few of them then go home and help the REAL FUCKING LIVE Dineh (Navajo, to those playing the white name game) fight the uranium miners TODAY in the REAL WORLD. And why should they? The story already absolved them.
Moniquill wrote this and much more because I bugged her about this story before I wrote up this post. As a result, she wrote a far more amazing response than I could hope to come up with, from which I took the above quote. She also subjected herself to the entire story, so if you want to get a taste of even worse things in the story (and even I was shocked at some of he quotes from later in the story), she's your person.
tablesaw: A tablesaw in action. The blade disappears when it comes in contact with a hot dog. (Default)
Let's get these out while I'm in a reviewing mood.

  • No. 31. "Colin and Ishmael in the Dark" by William Shunn (read by "MarBell"). A guard, a prisoner, and the dark. I really loved both the story and performance. My only disappointment was that the story, which was (or at least felt as though it were) almost entirely dialogue should have gone all the way and been performed more as an audio play than as a reading. The action in the story gets very tense, and as amazing as MarBelle's reading was, he still couldn't overcome the limitations of the interposed narration, or the physical difficulties of portraying a heated, interrupting argument between two people using only his own voice. Still, an excellent read.
  • Miniature 19. "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe (read by Cheyenne Wright). "Amontillado" is, I think, the most worthy of Poe's stories to be read aloud. It's short and simple, and yet there's far more room for interpretation of motives and circumstances than, say, "Tell-Tale Heart." Wright gives a good performance, but he gets tripped up a bit over his attempt at an accent, which had him adding a mysterious L sound before the d of "Amontillado." On the other hand, his coughing was exquisite, and I highly recommend the perfomance for that portion alone.
  • No. 32. "Senator Bilbo" by Andy Duncan (read by Frank Key). Bilbo Baggins meets Theodore G. Bilbo. No, really. A descendent of Bilbo Baggins (with the same name) acts in the Senate of the Shire in much the way that wihte-supremacist Bilbo did in Mississippi and the U.S. Senate. When I listened to the story, I was not aware of the connection to American history, and many elements seemed odd, overdone, or overly caricatured. Yup, those were the ones that turned out to be taken from the history of American politics. There isn't much plot to speak of, but it's an effective commentary on how history is written by the victors, and how that perspective needs to be taken into account even in imagined histories. Key's reading was uniformly excellent, here.
  • Miniature 20. "Okra, Sorghum, Yam" by Bruce Holland Rogers (read by An Owomoyela). The story of the second princess of three. After it was done, my only thought was that I still much prefer to hear the tale of the third princess to those of her elder sisters.
  • No. 33. "The Girl with the Sun in her Head" by Jeremiah Tolbert (read by Ann Leckie). A while back, I'd noticed that Leckie had an infuriating ability, when reading the final quotation of the podcast, to make the listener feel that what was clearly intended to be the last word, was actually the middle of a sentence, and that more was coming in just a bit. Her reading of the fiction, here, had similar mixed messages for the listener. The performance felt overly rushed (and perhaps overly anxious) to the point that I was actually made more tense and angry, my teeth clenching, merely trying to listen to the story being read. I skipped.
  • Miniature 21. "The Princess and the . . ." by Marie Brennan (read by Ann Leckie). THE LAST WORD IS PENIS LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL! Ugh. Far too much time dedicated to only half of a dirty joke that wasn't funny to begin with.
  • No. 34. "Clad in Gossamer" by Nancy Kress (read by Paul S. Jenkins). The Emperor's New Clothes, retold with an eye to court intrigue. I can't actually remember much of my reaction to this one, but I enjoyed it while I did the dishes.
  • Miniature 22. "The Kissing of Frogs" by Bruce Boston (read by Mur Lafferty). Don't really remember this one either. Those must have been some dishes.
  • Miniature 23. "Bury the Dead" by Ann Leckie (read by Tina Connolly). Family politics, gender politics, zombie politics, and turkey. I feel like I had deep thoughts about this one, but they've all melted away in the months since. I really enjoyed it, though, and I recall listening to it twice, and reading it online. So I liked it, yeah.
  • No. 35. "Winter Solstice" by Mike Resnick (read by Chris Furst). Merlin = Alzheimer's disease. I liked this story when I heard it, but it didn't hold up as well when thinking about it later. Ultimately what stays with me is Merlin's perspective on the fall of Camelot. If Merlin truly ages backwards, then the fall is something that happens to people he barely knows, but who've known and trusted him all their lives. His first meetings with them are at moments of pain and betrayal, and Merlin will have to go on to watch them as hopeful youths knowing (or possibly not knowing?) to what ends they will come.
  • No. 36. "Ancestor Money" by Maureen McHugh (read by Diane Severson). An woman travels from her quiet American afterlife into the bustling afterlife of Hong Kong. There's a lot going on in this story, and I don't know how I feel about it. I think the focus is on the way American and Chinese people think about their ancestors, and taken apart the views are interesting. McHugh's view of "ancestor worship" is that it keeps one's ancestors constantly tied to the temporal world of their descendants. So the dead of Hong Kong, no matter how old, live in a world that is much like the Hong Kong of the present of their descendants. While the American dead drift off into their own singular worlds, cut off from most everyone else. Their descendants may see pictures of them and wonder how they lived, possibly making mistakes in their imaginings ("Did they have phones, then? They must've had phones, then."), but for the most part they stay where they are temporally. When American Rachel makes the trip from one to the other, though, the values get complicated in strange ways that I haven't fully puzzled out. It's certainly very exotic. Also, Severson uses accents in portraying the many Hong Kong voices in her reading, and they sounded off to my ears (though I'm certainly not an expert). On the other hand, the English spoken by the Hong Kong spirits was meant to be oddly translated, I think, so I don't know how much Severson could have done.
  • Miniature 24. "Intelligent Design" by Ellen Klages (read by M.K. Hobson). Can't remember a thing.
  • No. 37. "Gordon, the Self-Made Cat" by Peter S. Beagle (read by Barry Deutsch). I mentioned this story earlier. I turned it off after it started to sound less like a story about a mouse named Gordon and more like a cat owner telling me all of the absolutely adorable things their pets do.
  • Miniature 25."Through the Cooking Glass" by Vylar Kaftan (read by Julie Davis). Also nothing remembered.
  • No. 38. "In the House of the Seven Librarians" by Ellen Klages (read by Rachel Swirsky). Like "Gordon," but with libraries instead of cats. Tried to listen twice; got bored and turned it off twice.
  • No. 39. "Honest Man" by Naomi Kritzer (read by Ann Leckie). This story starts out with a dragged-out retelling of a hoary scam. I held on for a while, until I looked at my iPod and saw how much time was left in the episode. I decided I couldn't take another half-hour of whatever was going to follow.
  • No. 40. "Hell Is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang (read by James Trimarco). As I lay them all out like this, I notice that I've been pretty hard on the last few months of PodCastle, and this episode was no exception. I really liked the text of the beginning of the story, but Trimarco's performance was so incredibly boring it hurt. If this hadn't been a "Giant" episode, I might have stuck with it, but since I knew going in that I was going to have to listen to that voice for an hour, I couldn't bear to go on.

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tablesaw: A tablesaw in action. The blade disappears when it comes in contact with a hot dog. (Default)
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