PC030: Grand Guignol

By Andy Duncan
Read by Frank Key (of Hooting Yard).

The third of our Halloween features, which will be continuing through October 31.

…today he brought me a sack of eyeballs of which, before God, not one was usable. Stress? Love? Syphillis? Who can say? I am saddened beyond speculation.

The instant I hefted the sack, I knew. A director senses these things. Yet to appease Charles, I dutifully hefted each eyeball, rolled it in my fingers, inspected it, flung it to the floor. Not one bounced — not one! Smack, smack, smack, like so many eggs. They surrounded my desk, gazing up at my shame.

Rated R. Contains gore, gross-outs, and eyeballs.

Please visit the thread on this story in our forums.

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25 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    ADerksen said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

    This is by far the best thing I have heard on here yet. Kudos! I will unquestionably track the author down and ransack his other works for further delightment.

  2. 2

    Janice in GA said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 5:42 pm

    I had a little trouble following who was saying what here, in spite of having read the story in dead tree version a few years back. Sometimes a little extra in the narrator’s tones of voice make all the difference in the clarity of a story.

    I do mostly listen to podcasts while walking or driving, so that may be a factor.

  3. 3

    Scorching Starlinks | Mike Brotherton: SF Writer said,

    October 23, 2008 @ 2:31 am

    […] buddy Andy Duncan’s story Grand Guignol is available as an audio file from Podcastle, in time for Halloween. I fondly remember reading the first draft of this story back at Clarion […]

  4. 4

    ADerksen said,

    October 23, 2008 @ 11:01 am

    I should apologize for the inadequate scope of my original comment – it suffered from what my old creative writing teacher described as the “I liked it, It was good” school of useless criticism, but I was absorbed in my enthusiasm for this tale. Why did I enjoy it? While the characters literally stepped out of central casting, and their serial stepwise introduction led to an inevitable process of plot and climax followed to a predictable end… it was still a fun ride. The play within a play, and all is well that ends well.

    Common they might have been, but his sketches were well-executed and personable. Instead of building contempt for the author’s reliance on stock characters and plots, this familiarity with the tropes actually brought comfort. Perhaps this is an aspect that writers of short fiction must master; they have so little time or space to introduce us to a personality that preconceived automatons must roll out – and then small flourishes may give each character their identity and grant them their uniqueness.

    I don’t know what else to say. I listened to it twice in as many days, which is a first for this podcast.

  5. 5

    yicheng said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

    I found the reading very confusing. I normally love Frank Key’s reading, but I couldn’t tell who was talking and who wasn’t. As a result, I found the plotline almost impossible to follow.

  6. 6

    L33tminion said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

    Superb story and narration. I wonder if it really fits into the fantasy genre, but since it’s certainly one of the most fantastic stories I’ve heard here, I’m glad it was included.

  7. 7

    Amaster said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

    I found it difficult to follow who was supposed to be speaking, due to the fact that the narrator didn’t change his voice between characters. Otherwise, it was a good story.

  8. 8

    valjean24601 said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 7:13 pm

    Was nobody else reminded Noises Off. Both the screwed up play, and the bitchy director distracted me with their similarity to Noises Off. Besides this the entire story was confusing, disgusting, and not very well written. The reader was also not very good.

  9. 9

    Libertas in Silico: free fiction online, to 24 Oct. « That, Which said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

    […] This week’s story, “Grand Guignol”, by Andy Duncan, is the macabre and utterly beautiful story of a actual 1920s Parisien theatre which specialised in […]

  10. 10

    Caroline said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

    I really didn’t like this one, I personally think that jumping from character to character only works in novels, so the author can better develp the characters. I’m not really sure how this qualifies as fantasy, did somebody mix up the podcast with psuedopod’s?

  11. 11

    Blaine Boy said,

    October 25, 2008 @ 4:14 am

    I loved how Mr. Duncan was able to progress a plot while developing characters by jumping from person to person. I didn’t necessarily get mixed up on the characters, but what they were saying. While Mr. Key is in fact an excellent reader, I don’t think he was suited for this sort of story where there are multiple and constant changes. I mean no offense to you Mr. Key. I did however miss whatever the fantasy was supposed to be. Any one care to fill me in on that? Was it like ghost nuns that still inhabit the convent-turned-theater or what? Other than that, it was an absolutely amazing story.

    Yours faithfully,
    the Blaine Boy

  12. 12

    Seraph said,

    October 25, 2008 @ 11:29 am

    Agree with the general praise – very cool reading, great shifts in 1st person narration, generally groovy story. But also agree with the ‘where was the fantasy?’ sentiments. A few ‘maybe there / maybe not’ convent ghosts doesn’t make a fantasy genre story in my books. I did enjoy the story a lot though – so I don’t know if I’m actually making a complaint or not. Go figure.

  13. 13

    Mari Mitchell said,

    October 26, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    I like the subject matter, but the story did not do anything for me. Now I will be giving another listen. Perhaps I did not give enough attention.

  14. 14

    Hyperion said,

    October 27, 2008 @ 1:33 am

    Was this a fantasy story or historical fiction? Besides the setting, many of these “characters” were real people, n’est pas?

    I like listening to Frank Key — he makes everything sound more literary — but I have to admit that it was sometimes difficult to remember who was who, although eventually I clued in that whoever just got talked about was likely to be the next narrator. This isn’t a criticism of Key; I can hardly imagine him reading with falsetto voices. His screams were hysterical enough!

    However, when going with one reader (as opposed to a more radio-play type of feel), it might be good to have a cast introduction at the beginning. Some sort of guide as to who’s who, so we don’t miss the beginning of each section trying to catch up.

    The story itself was very enjoyable. The praying nun-ghosts aside, I’m not entirely sure where the Fantasy element enters in, but I’m not one of those people who get all bent out of shape looking for quota. I was content to enjoy the story as unique unto itself.

    As for that, I rather think the ending might have more than one interpretation, but no one else has mentioned it, so either I’m wrong, it’s incredibly obvious and not worth mentioning, or the others’ eyeballs are bouncing around on the floor and they just can’t see it.

  15. 15

    Rachel said,

    October 27, 2008 @ 9:56 am

    “Was this a fantasy story or historical fiction? Besides the setting, many of these “characters” were real people, n’est pas? ”

    Ann suggests that it’s alternate history – the real Max died before the year when the story took place.

  16. 16

    The Uncredible Hallq said,

    October 27, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

    I’m about half-through and decided to check the comments to see if anyone else is as confused as I am. The story is interesting for short stretches, but overall I’m having trouble keeping track of who’s talking, and am inclined to file this as “least favorite podcastle story.”

  17. 17

    Rod Basler said,

    October 29, 2008 @ 11:59 am

    I am of the camp that rates this way up on the favorites list. Yes, it is probably ‘Historical Fiction’ rather than ‘Fantasy’, but in this case, the story was so charming that I really didn’t care. Of course, being a bit of an amateur makeup artist and fascinated by the Grand Guignol most likely predisposes me to that sentiment. I do admit having to hit the ‘Back’ button a few times to figure out just who was talking, something that would have been less of a problem with print.
    Thank you; an excellent story.

  18. 18

    Jennifer said,

    October 29, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

    I have to second everyone who said they couldn’t keep track of who was who. I wish multiple voices (or at least one female) had been hired for this one, or that the reader could imitate more than one voice. It took me multiple listenings to figure out the character changes alone.

  19. 19

    Ken Ryan said,

    October 29, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

    I’m afraid I have to say I didn’t like this story. In fact, of all the Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Podcastle stories this is the *only* one where I gave up halfway through and turned to something else. I think it was a mix of Frank’s reading, my inability to distinguish when a different character started speaking, and the fact that the plot seemed to be taking forever to get anywhere.

    Frank Key has a wonderful voice for certain stories – he was perfect in “The Team-Mate Reference Problem” over on Escape Pod. He’s well suited for the dry, single-point-of-view voice. Not so much for a constantly changing speaker.

    Anyway, I continue to enjoy the Big Three story podcasts, and am looking forward to next week!

  20. 20

    Tyson of the NW said,

    October 30, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

    I really enjoyed this story. I expected the story to end by the grotesqe of the play becoming reality. But instead it ended rather sweetly I thought. It pleasantly surprised me. I also thought the reader’s accent really added to the story. Thought it wasn’t french it did force me to be more attentive and reminded me of listening to old short stories from the BBC.

  21. 21

    scatterbrain said,

    October 30, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

    Andy Duncan and Frank Key–a match made in heaven.
    Key could make reading out war casualties hilirious, and Duncan…ahh, brilliant, just brilliant…

  22. 22

    Lucianno said,

    November 1, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

    Not a bad story, but like others, had a hard time following it. I think this story would have really benefited from multiple readers.

  23. 23

    Alina said,

    November 3, 2008 @ 1:26 am

    As many have already said, I found it hard to follow because of the reading. I did enjoy the story, but I it doesn’t really seem to fit the fantasy genre, and since this is a fantasy podcast I find that highly important.

  24. 24

    Darth Tigger said,

    November 3, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

    I think I’m going to have to throw in on the “huh?” side of the critical tide here. I love Frank Key’s voice and Hooting Yard is in my faves. But I found this story almost impossible to follow (and I, for one, don’t think this was Frank’s fault). Also, it really feels more apropos to Pseudopod than Podcastle, as the macabre aspects were by far the most pronounced in the story.

  25. 25

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    November 4, 2008 @ 6:48 pm

    I really enjoyed this one. The twist at the end was not the twist I was expecting, which is ok, because it was still good. The reading was great, even with a few errors (what’s with all the editing mishaps lately?), the accent was perfectly suited to the story (well, barring a French one, I suppose, but it worked for me). I actually want to hunt down more info about the Grand Guignol theater now. I had no trouble at all following the shifting viewpoints, which were all clearly “labeled”, and I’m actually glad the narrator didn’t try to ham it up with different voices- that so often falls flat. This story belongs here rather than Pseudopod because it had a happy ending, which Pseudopod stories rarely ever do.

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