PC020: Cup and Table

By Tim Pratt
Read by Stephen Eley (of Escape Pod)
First appeared in Twenty Epics (All Star Stories)

The Old Doctor welcomed Sigmund, twenty years old and tormented by visions, into the library at the Table’s headquarters. Shelves rose everywhere like battlements, the floors were old slate, and the lights were ancient crystal-dripping chandeliers, but the Old Doctor sat in a folding chair at a card table heaped with books.

“I expected, well, something _more_,” Sigmund said, thumping the rickety table with his hairy knuckles. “A big slab of mahogany or something, a table with authority.”

“We had a fine table once,” the Old Doctor said, eternally middle-aged and absently professorial. “But it was chopped up for firewood during a siege in the 1600s.” He tapped the side of his nose. “There’s a
lesson in that. No asset, human or material, is important compared to the continued existence of the organization itself.”

“But surely _you’re_ irreplaceable,” Sigmund said, awkward attempt at job security through flattery. The room shivered and blurred at the edges of his vision, but it had not changed much in recent decades, a few books moving here and there, piles of dust shifting across the floor.

The Old Doctor shook his head. “I am the living history of the Table, but if I died, a new doctor would be sent from the archives to take over operations, and though his approach might differ from mine, his
role would be the same — to protect the cup.”

“The cup,” Sigmund said, sensing the cusp of mysteries. “You mean the Holy Grail.”

Rated PG. Contains mysteries, religious and philosophical.

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30 Responses so far

  1. 1

    Khonshu said,

    August 14, 2008 @ 7:08 am

    The mythology created in this story captivated me. I wanted more and more and more. It just couln’t have been long enough… a full length novel would have left me wanting a sequel.

  2. 2

    Steven Klotz said,

    August 14, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

    I just read this over the weekend in Pratt’s _Hart and Boot and Other Stories_ I can’t wait to hear the audio.

    *goes off to think about carbon molecules for a bit*

  3. 3

    Max Salle said,

    August 14, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

    This was my favorite podcastle episode, by far. Up until now, the episodes have been remarkably consistent, and I’ve really enjoyed many of them.

    But this one just blew me away. The characters were amazing, the superpowers were entirely original, and the ending made my jaw drop. Frankly, there are not enough superlatives and cliches to throw at this luminescent gem of a story.

    Overall I’m less speechless, or whatever the equivalent is when you write something out on a computer, whatever, just listen to this genius piece of fiction.

  4. 4

    Matt’s Bookosphere 8/14/08 « Enter the Octopus said,

    August 14, 2008 @ 11:34 pm

    […] Matt’s Bookosphere 8/14/08 14 08 2008 Tim Pratt’s “Cup and Table” at Podcastle […]

  5. 5

    chris said,

    August 15, 2008 @ 12:00 am

    For some reason I kept hearing “Hellboy III coming soon to a theater near you” the whole time I was listening. Other than that I enjoyed the story.

  6. 6

    Bingorage said,

    August 15, 2008 @ 4:14 am

    Must agree with Max Salle; I churned my brain silly trying to guess and was still stunned with the ending. Great story.


  7. 7

    Shiatis said,

    August 15, 2008 @ 11:38 am

    I also found the story a little Hellboy-ish, (but that’s not to say that Hellboy was an amazingly original idea). This was a great story, I enjoyed it from beginning to end, especially the end. This is definitely my favoite PodCastle to date, but I can’t wonder why it ran here and not on EscapePod.

    It’s also nice to see a story that isn’t primarily target at women, as most of the PodCastles have been to date, (IMO).

  8. 8

    Atricaudatus said,

    August 15, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

    I’m with Max. “Blown away” is the nearest I can manage, and even that falls somehow short.

    This story was absolutely fantastic, in nearly every respect; engaging in a way I hadn’t expected, and brilliantly crafted. It’s authors like Pratt who make me realize how utterly inept and useless I am as a writer.

    Far and away my favorite PC episode.

  9. 9

    scatterbrain said,

    August 17, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

    I appreciate this sort of metaphysical science fantasy; its almost certainly what Philip K Dick would have gone on to write if he had not had his fatal stroke.

    But I still can’t get round my head how bizzaro authors like Pratt come up with these crazed, yet poiniant ideas.

  10. 10

    Jake said,

    August 17, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

    By FAR the best Pod Castle story. Tim is an incredibly talented writer, reminding me of Gene Wolfe in his inspired Book of the New Sun series. One of my favorite story from Escape Pod–the story that made my jaw drop–“Life in Stone,” is also written by Tim. You’ll see me soaking up everything he writes from now on.

  11. 11

    Txistu said,

    August 19, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

    I seem to be in a minority with my thoughts about Cup & Table, but I found this to be an incredibly hackneyed, cliched and poorly rendered story. It was offensive in its lack of craft or originality. In short, it sucked. Please tell me this was an anomaly and you will continue to exercise the discriminating editorial powers you have in the past.

    P.S. Thanks for a very entertaining podcast for the most part. Keep up the fine work.

  12. 12

    Zaphod said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 11:34 am

    Definitely my favorite podcastle so far. The ending was great. When it ended, my first reaction was “What?”….then I started cracking up.

    I loved the characters and the way they were developed. Very interesting powers.

    As for the PG reference….well, Steve Ely did say that they…well…you know….had relations at an intense rate after their trip to hell 🙂

  13. 13

    Back from Worldcon / Congrats to Tim Pratt at Night Shade Books said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

    […] And congratulations are due to Tim Pratt, whose collection Hart & Boot & Other Stories has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award. If you haven’t already checked out this solid collection of tales, which includes the Hugo Award-winning story “Impossible Dreams,” click on over to Podcastle, and give a listen to their excellent adaptation of Tim’s neo-Arthurian epic, “Cup and Table”. […]

  14. 14

    Arun Jiwa said,

    August 24, 2008 @ 1:40 am

    I really enjoyed “Cup & Table.”

    More like this, and more from Tim, please.

  15. 15

    Jason K said,

    August 26, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

    Beautifully written story. Some of the other members of the team were a little hard to relate to, while others, such a Carlsbad, got entirely too little spotlight, but other than that, for me it’s right up there with Hotel Astarte as best PC to date.

  16. 16

    David Barr Kirtley : Blog : Short Stories in Which Things Actually Happen said,

    August 26, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

    […] and Table” recently appeared on PodCastle. The story is sort of Arthurian legend meets X-Men. Go listen to it now. I like stories in which things actually happen, and I submit “Cup and Table” as an […]

  17. 17

    Zergonapal said,

    August 26, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

    I loved the punchline. I laughed and laughed.

  18. 18

    Derksen said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

    Carlsbad’s comment concerning how he may be made of evil, but how that did not define his actions made this story an instant favorite among those broadcast here on PodCastle thus far.

  19. 19

    Christian Burns said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 2:11 am

    This was my favorite podcastle to date.

    I enjoyed how the story jogged back and forth in time just like Sigmund’s visions did. I never felt like he stated stuff I already understood about the story, he was always a step ahead.

    As a Christian I couldn’t help thinking that the ending of this story was the beginning of our current universe cycle. My outlook on life is that God is very much involved in the world and He has stuck around. Naturally I see evidence for that in everything, just as those who think God has abandoned us see His lack of being here.

  20. 20

    Hyperion said,

    August 29, 2008 @ 3:37 am

    The story did not flow, which…..is ultimately my biggest compliment. Most enjoyed stories have a rhythm and a cadence; they flow easily from passage to passage, the ending mirroring the beginning.

    Cup and Table was not like that at all. The sections were almost discordant, harsh, with pieces sticking up that might snag your sweater as you passed by. I cannot help but feel this was apurpose.

    What better way to give insight into Sigmund’s abilities/curse, than to have a story that refused to meld into place like a good little tale. Further added to that was the ending, the idea (however dangerous, or not), that our world, and our relationship to its creation was not the thing of perfect order and harmony, but born of chaos, chance and (cringingingly for our arrogant spieces), indifference.

    I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into how the tale was constructed, but but I found the discordant tone bordering on genius. A hearty Amen.

  21. 21

    WriterDan said,

    September 3, 2008 @ 5:56 pm

    Interesting story. I agree with the Hellboy similarities. Had a difficult time following where in the time line the story was. Caught the beginning and end, but the middle was a big jumble. Didn’t much care for the ending either. No real impact, and so it was kind of blah. But the guy can write convincingly.

    I do have to say though that I was surprised at the PG rating what with the amount of swearing that’s in the piece. Either these ratings don’t line up with movie ratings at all (and in that case, it should be posted somewhere that they don’t), or it was rated poorly. I wouldn’t exactly call 4(+?) f-words a PG.

  22. 22

    Amaster said,

    September 4, 2008 @ 9:55 am

    The ending of this story gives new meaning to the phrase: “High on Christ”. I loved it.

  23. 23

    Audita Sum said,

    September 8, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

    Interesting. I liked the physical manifestation of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men.

  24. 24

    A. Prins said,

    September 9, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    I’m not sure I agree with a PG rating on this one–or at least warn us about some of the stronger language. It was interesting to hear the author drag all of the mythical and mystical elements into one pile of randomness. The POV was really unusual, I thought.

  25. 25

    Spork said,

    September 22, 2008 @ 6:49 pm

    This was pretty good. But, there was too much ground covered, too much back story screaming to be developed. The ending? Pretty damned nice.

    But, this really needs to be fleshed out into a full novel or three.

  26. 26

    Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » PodCastle Stories I think Alas Readers Will Like said,

    October 25, 2008 @ 5:02 am

    […] Delivery” by John Schoffstall “The Yeti Behind You” by Jeremiah Tolbert “Cup and Table” by Tim […]

  27. 27

    Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Rachel Swirsky giving a reading at Borderlands in San Francisco, July 23 7:30 said,

    July 18, 2009 @ 3:40 am

    […] Kaftan, I can recommend work of theirs that I’ve published on PodCastle: Tim Pratt’s “Cup and Table” and Vylar Kaftan’s […]

  28. 28

    Black Gate » Blog Archive » My Tim Prattathon at Podcastle and Other Cool Things said,

    May 11, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    […] first one was called “Cup and Table”, which was (and here I quote the man who recommended it to me), “so kick-ass and so much fun […]

  29. 29

    Interview: Tim Pratt, interviewed by Dave Thompson | The AudioBookaneers said,

    October 19, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

    […] Cup and Table (Not read by me, but easily one of my absolute favoritist short stories ever. The epitome of cool.) […]

  30. 30

    Friday read! “Cup and Table” by Tim Pratt | Rachel Swirsky said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 10:00 am

    […] By the time those events occurred, I was gone and many other stories by Tim Pratt had been bought by successive editors. But I did publish my share, including an audio version of this one. […]

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