PodCastle 55: Bottom Feeding

By Tim Pratt
Read by Kip Manley (of the serialized fantasy novel City of Roses)

The salmon of knowledge lived a long time ago, in the Well of Segais, where the waters ran deep and clear as rippling air. He swam there, thinking his deep thoughts, coming to the surface occasionally to eat the magical hazel-nuts that fell into the water from the trees on the bank. Every nut contained revelations, but the salmon was not a mere living compendium of knowledge — he was a wise fish, too, and so chose to live quietly, waiting for the inevitable day when he would be caught and devoured. The salmon dimly remembered past (and perhaps future) lives, experiences inside and outside of time, from the whole history of the land: being blinded by a hawk on a cold winter night, hiding in a cave after a flood, running from a woman who might have been a goddess, or who might have been a witch.

The salmon did not look forward to being caught, and cooked, and eaten, but knowing what the consequences would be for the one who caught him, he had to laugh, insofar as fish (even very wise ones) are able to laugh.

Rated R. for fish-related hijinks.

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17 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Tangaroa said,

    June 6, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    You can get catfish in Portland at several places. McCormick & Schmicks has it on their lunch menu. I think I’ve even seen it offered at the Popeye’s location at 158th and Walker Rd. in Beaverton.
    Catfish are bottom-feeding fish and I think it tastes a little “muddy” or “weedy” but some people really like it. Give it a try and see what you think.

  2. 2

    M.K. Hobson said,

    June 7, 2009 @ 11:54 am

    Thanks for the hints, Tangaroa! I may also try McGrath’s out in Milwaukee, which is closer to where I actually live (in Oregon City.)

  3. 3

    Greg said,

    June 7, 2009 @ 2:13 pm


    Just finished the Tim Pratt story and again I am reminded why I love his short fiction so damn much, even-though the ending is well foreshadowed in the tale the end still takes me by surprise. It is not that M night Sham kind of twist end its one that gives you the twist and then ends without belaboring the twist really…

    Thanks for the great tale and the wonderful narration…..

    can’t wait to pull out my copy of hart and boot to read it for myself….

  4. 4

    scatterbrain said,

    June 7, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

    Pratt has this special talent of being able to blend the real with the fantastique convincingly, one I would kill for to be honest.

    Now if you may excuse me, I think I’ll get back to that piece of haddock I’ve got in the fridge…

  5. 5

    Bingorage said,

    June 9, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

    I loved the idea of “extraordinary trade”, with the unknown and mystery, as a way for the protagonist to explore his grief. The items traded-for bring memories, yet fail to satisfy.

    I prefer the “Walleye of Apathy”.


  6. 6

    L33tminion said,

    June 10, 2009 @ 11:53 am

    I really liked the ending of this story. Part of it is that I just like ambiguous endings in general. Part is that I like how the story reveals that the main character knows the story-within-a-story as well, and thus the ending puts the audience in the main character’s shoes.

  7. 7

    EasyTarget said,

    June 11, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    Beautifully crafted and read story, the ending has been leaving me wondering/angry/satisfied (yep, all three, simultaneously) ever since I listened to it..

    Now to my gripe.. I share an apartment with 7 catfish, and they would be horrified to hear the description of their orders lifestyle. So by way of a counterpoint some Siluriformes stay small, are colourful, remorslessly active, have beautiful flowing sensitive barbels, prefer fish food to c**p and like to cuddle up in groups. Ok.
    – Granted, there are catfish and then there are Catfish. My other two are rather larger, more ‘ornary, but still prefer a slice of zuccini or an algae wafer over, say, slower tankmates, returned memories or other debris.

  8. 8

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    June 11, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

    Wow! What a fantastically poignant, touching, elegant, marvelous story! I was captivated right up until the abrupt cutoff- it seems like someone at PC must have accidentally hit the stop button on the recording device or something. So, we’ll be getting the other half of this any day now, right?

    …Right? =\

  9. 9

    Natasha said,

    June 24, 2009 @ 9:22 am

    I’m with Dave – there was just too much buildup as to what the secret of the catfish was to end it like that. It made me think of those awful stories where the whole story is about Hero seeking the meaning of life and when we finally get to the climax, Wise Old Guy whispers it in Hero’s ear and we never hear it – not because our ignorance is important to the story, but because the author couldn’t think of anything compelling enough.

    Otherwise, great story, with some really interesting characters. I loved the writing, and the narration was also fantastic.

  10. 10

    Arkayanon said,

    June 24, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

    No! Not another folksy Southern tale about mystical fish where style is waaay more important than the story itself!

    Wait, that’s not what this is. Right as I was about to give up the story showed itself to be more, sending me on a rare stint of hours-long introspection. That alone made me love the effect of this story.

    But, this kind of ambiguous ending always feels like a cop-out to me. While no one ending will satisfy everyone, something is better than nothign.

  11. 11

    Catperson said,

    June 25, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

    I love this story. Once I got over the shock that it ended, it left me pondering for days. Perfect!

  12. 12

    Randall said,

    June 30, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

    Being from southern Louisiana, I was rather shocked to hear someone had never had catfish. It’s the most common type of fish around, and the cheapest. Anyway, this was a pretty damn good story, but I am always annoyed by people and stories where, when confronted with something unique and special, immediately want to destroy it. Makes me depressed.

  13. 13

    Cookie Stephens said,

    July 11, 2009 @ 2:43 am

    The only catfish I’ve ever had that I actually like is fried catfish from Reo’s Ribs over by Movies on TV, and I grew up in the south.

  14. 14

    LaShawn said,

    July 21, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

    I have fond memories of going fishing with my daddy, and catfish was one of his favorites. I found this story to be deeply poignant, and the emotional turmoil the main character went through really gripped me. While the ending was abrupt, I think it was a wonderful place to end at.

  15. 15

    FictionFan said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

    Very interesting story…

  16. 16

    BestScienceFictionStories.com » Post Topic » Bottom Feeding by Tim Pratt said,

    September 7, 2009 @ 3:04 am

    […] Listen to “Bottom Feeding” for free at PodCastle.org […]

  17. 17

    Bottom Feeding by Tim Pratt | neo-sentinel.info said,

    September 7, 2009 @ 4:29 am

    […] Listen to “Bottom Feeding” for free at PodCastle.org […]

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