Archive for April, 2008

PC005: The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale

By Benjamin Rosenbaum
Read by Stephen Eley.
Introduction by Rachel Swirsky.
First appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (Prime Books).
Also by the Author: The Ant King: and Other Stories (Paperback)

Sheila split open and the air was filled with gumballs. Yellow gumballs. This was awful for Stan, just awful. He had loved Sheila for a long time, fought for her heart, believed in their love until finally she had come around. They were about to kiss for the first time and then this: yellow gumballs.

Stan went to a group to try to accept that Sheila was gone. It was a group for people whose unrequited love had ended in some kind of surrealist moment. There is a group for everything in California.

Rated PG. Contains surrealism, involuntary cohabitation, strong language and characters with unconventional genders. Also, an extremely large number of geek culture easter eggs.

Please visit this story’s thread in our forums. 

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PC004: Goosegirl

By Margaret Ronald
Read by Mary Robinette Kowal.
Introduction by Rachel Swirsky.
First appeared in Fantasy (Prime Books).

“You came with the Princess Alia, didn’t you?” says a tall man with an understeward’s chain. “They must have low standards up north if you’re the sort of thing she brings along.”

I shake my head; the world slides in and out of focus. “I didn’t come here for that. I’m not — help.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Oh, so you’re not with the help? You must be one of the nobility, then?” He tweaks my skirts, and a ragged hem tears. “So what did you come here for, if you’re not with the princess?”

The words sound wrong even as I think them, but I say them nonetheless. “To be married.”

He bursts out laughing. “Poor girl,” a woman at the back of the servants’ hall says. “She’s simple. Can’t tell between herself and the princess.”

Rated PG. Contains sorcery, blood, and theft of memory.

Please visit the thread on this story in our forums.

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PodCastle Miniature 002: Giant

By Stephanie Burgis
Read by Jonathan Sullivan.
Outro by Ann Leckie.
First appeared in Lone Star Stories, 2004 (full text at link).

A few words on “Giant,” from Associate Editor Ann Leckie:

Today’s story is a riff on the classic trope of The Giant Who Had No Heart which you can take a gander at on wikipedia, if you happen to be unfamiliar.

Nearly every culture has fairy tales, and many of them are strikingly similar to tales told by other, very distant peoples.  That may be the long process of transmission between different groups, stories passed along in a game of telephone thousands of years long, or it may be that fairy tales spring from, and engage, something basic in human psychology. It’s hard to say, really.

The tales themselves are stripped down, very concise and economical. Close-in examination of a character’s psyche, or even more than rudimentary character development, doesn’t exist in fairy tales. Even in stories with little or no magic, strange things happen with no obvious reasons, let alone explanation. We may hear of beautiful maidens, perhaps even with hair of ebony or flax, shining dresses of gold or silver, mountains of glass–but without much in the way of detail.

And good and evil are clearly marked. We know which is which–one sister speaks, and jewels fall out of her mouth. The other utters toads. There are no qualifications, no mitigating circumstances, no shades of gray. It’s all very straightforward.

Today’s story is “Giant” by Stephanie Burgis. It plays on a tale that’s very popular, one that, like most fairy tales, has plenty of variants. It’s the story of the ogre who’s hidden his heart–or sometimes his soul–in an unlikely and hard to reach place. His vulnerability is in an iron box at the bottom of the sea. Or in an egg in the mouth of a fish inside a crow that came from a deer. Or else he can only be killed in very specific, very unlikely circumstances. But once the secret is known, he’s vulnerable.

What does it mean to have to hide one’s heart? To never be able to trust anyone — even one’s own beloved — with the secrets of one’s own existence? To always have to protect your heart from those closest to you within the egg, inside the crow that came from the deer?

But, of course, since we’re talking fairy tales, the ogre must be evil. Surely. Surely, he must deserve his fate.

I’ve hidden my heart in an egg, in a box, in a well at the end of the world. My father taught me that trick a long time ago.

If I’d kept my heart, I would be in trouble now. This princess is too beautiful.

Rated G. Contains a heart, once carefully hidden.

Why PodCastle miniatures? According to wikipedia, the word miniature is derived from the Latin minium, red lead, and is a picture in an ancient or medieval illuminated manuscript. We thought it was a good way to describe very short stories with a fantasy theme: a word that indicates brevity, manuscripts, and a medieval atmosphere.

 Please visit the thread on this story in our forums.

Discuss on the forums.

PC003: Run of the Fiery Horse

By Hilary Moon Murphy
Read by Rachel Swirsky.
Introduction by K. Tempest Bradford.
First appeared in Realms of Fantasy, 2002.

His tongue flickered out, sniffing the river of dreams that swirled around him. He had studied humans long enough to be a connoisseur of their flavors: those born in the year of the Wooden Ox tasted faintly of wheat and nuts, Metal Pigs had the aroma of tart berries, and Water Dragons reminded him of the salty wines of Nippon. But the taste he sought remained elusive.

Then he found it: hot, almost peppery, with an underlying sweetness. Tsi Sha closed his eyes and hissed with pleasure. A female of the Fiery Horse, the rarest of flavors. Few of the girl children born in that year had lived past their first night. Tsi Sha had found them abandoned on country hillsides and city rubbish heaps as families rid themselves of their inauspicious newborn daughters.

They had tasted delicious.

Rated PG. Contains sensuality, serpentine twists, and a darting tongue that can taste your dreams.

Links:

The Angry Black Woman – A blog on Politics, Race, Gender, Sexuality, Anger

Discuss on the forums.

PC002: For Fear of Dragons

By Carrie Vaughn
Read by Cunning Minx (of Polyamory Weekly).
Introduction by Summer Brooks.
First appeared in Weird Tales, 2006.

The year came when soldiers rode to Jeanette’s family’s holding. Their
captain announced that from the sea to the mountains, Jeanette was the only
woman over the age of ten known to be a virgin. Only one possible name
could be drawn in the lottery.

Jeanette’s mother sobbed, and the soldiers had to tie her father to keep
him from doing violence. They held her three brothers off with crossbows.
Her family had urged her time and again to marry someone, anyone, a young
whelp, an old widower on his deathbed. They had even begged her to find a
likely boy to love her for a night and give her a child. But Jeanette had
refused, because she knew that this day would come, that one day she would
be chosen, and she knew her destiny.
 Before the soldiers led her away, Jeanette held her mother’s face in her
hands. “It’s all right. I have a plan, I know what to do.”

Rated G. Contains enormous webbed wings, sharp fangs, and a hide of glistening scales.

 

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PodCastle Miniature 001: Stone Born

By Loreen Heneghan
Read by Sam Ferree
Introduction by Rachel Swirsky
First appearance here, in PodCastle
Today marks the debut of our first PodCastle Miniature*, “Stone Born” by Loreen Heneghan.
 
They weren’t friends — she being a girl. Plus she had a crooked smile, a  snorting laugh, and a face like some stone-age ax. Even so, he and Brenda were the last kids on the bus route out past those cliffs. Mark let her sit with him when all the other boys were gone. He’d heard her parents were fighting over her, too. Fighting mean. 

They never talked about that. As they rumbled along, Brenda taught him to look forward, never turning, even when the faces were like a crowd at the edge of the road. It was cool, like seeing into a strange, goblin world.

Rated G. Contains children, school buses, and elves.

An Escape Pod flash fiction contest submission.

*According to wikipedia, the word miniature is derived from the Latin minium, red lead, and is a picture in an ancient or medieval illuminated manuscript. We thought it was a good way to describe very short stories with a fantasy theme: a word that indicates brievity, manuscripts, and a medieval atmosphere. 

Discuss on the forums.

PC001: Come Lady Death

By Peter S. Beagle.
Read by Paul S. Jenkins (of The Rev Up Review).
Introduction by Ann Leckie.
First appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, 1963.

But in time her own parties began to bore her, and though she invited the most famous people in the land and hired the greatest jugglers and acrobats and dancers and magicians to entertain them, still she found her parties duller and duller. Listening to court gossip, which she had always loved, made her yawn. The most marvelous music, the most exciting feats of magic put her to sleep. Watching a beautiful young couple dance by her made her feel sad, and she hated to feel sad.

And so, one summer afternoon she called her closest friends around her and said to them, “More and more I find that my parties entertain everyone but me. The secret of my long life is that nothing has ever been dull for me. For all my life, I have been interested in everything I saw and been anxious to see more. But I cannot stand to be bored, and I will not go to parties at which I expect to be bored, especially if they are my own. Therefore, to my next ball I shall invite the one guest I am sure no one, not even myself, could possibly find boring. My friends, the guest of honor at my next party shall be Death himself!”

Rated PG. Contains…well, Death.

Discuss on the forums.

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