Archive for February, 2010

PodCastle 92: Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz Go to War Again

by Garth Nix.
Read by Paul Tevis.
Originally appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe.

“Do you ever wonder about the nature of the world, Mister Fitz?” asked the foremost of the two riders, raising the three-barred visor of his helmet so that his words might more clearly cross the several feet of space that separated him from his companion, who rode not quite at his side.

“I take it much as it presents itself, for good or ill, Sir Hereward,” replied Mister Fitz. He had no need to raise a visor, for he wore a tall lacquered hat rather than a helmet. It had once been taller and had come to a peak, before encountering something sharp in the last battle but two the pair had found themselves engaged in. This did not particularly bother Mister Fitz, for he was not human. He was a wooden puppet given the semblance of life by an ancient sorcery. By dint of propinquity, over many centuries a considerable essence of humanity had been absorbed into his fine-grained body, but attention to his own appearance or indeed vanity of any sort was still not part of his persona.

Sir Hereward, for the other part, had a good measure of vanity and in fact the raising of the three-barred visor of his helmet almost certainly had more to do with an approaching apple seller of comely appearance than it did with a desire for clear communication to Mister Fitz.

The duo were riding south on a road that had once been paved and gloried in the name of the Southwest Toll Extension of the Lesser Trunk. But its heyday was long ago, the road being even older than Mister Fitz. Few paved stretches remained, but the tightly compacted understructure still provided a better surface than the rough soil of the fields to either side.

The political identification of these fallow pastures and the occasional once-coppiced wood they passed was not clear to either Sir Hereward or Mister Fitz, despite several attempts to ascertain said identification from the few travelers they had encountered since leaving the city of Rhool several days before. To all intents and purposes, the land appeared to be both uninhabited and untroubled by soldiery or tax collectors and was thus a void in the sociopolitical map that Hereward held uneasily, and Fitz exactly, in their respective heads.

Rated PG for wooden puppets with no desire to be human.

Ann Leckie month comes to a conclusion with this rousing tale. We hope you enjoyed her choices as much as we did. Thanks, Ann!

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PodCastle 91: Three Days and Nights In Lord Darkdrake’s Hall

by Leah Bobet.
Read by Mur Lafferty.
Originally published in Strange Horizons.

The sun slanted ever further in, pooling warm and uncomfortable at my feet as I noted the exits and matched walls to arms of the compass, itemized my situation neatly in my head.

They had taken my armor. Instead I wore a long dress of white linen, the kind of dress that would have been too simple in my previous life and was much too impractically frivolous now. They had taken my arms, my secondhand sword and the bow my lord uncle had given me, and the reason for that was obvious. He wanted vulnerability, not strength; he wanted me to look and feel and be vulnerable.

Somewhere beneath the coldness of my regard, I began to get angry. He was setting a stage. He was creating the battlefield. I could not buy into it.

I resolved to ask Captain Stoneburn, when next I saw him, what had transpired between him and Lord Darkdrake to provoke such a desire for vengeance.

When the light-dapples on the floor were long and tinged with sickly orange, a servant came in with bread and cheese and water. Peasant food: perhaps it was meant to be a slight. Mercenary food, Company food: perhaps it was meant to remind. I moved to take it, and remembered that my hands were bound fast.

Rated R for kickass heroines and human suffering.

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PodCastle Miniature 47: Chinatown

by Greg van Eekhout

Read by John Meagher

Extracted from “Tales From the City of Seams,” Originally Published in Polyphony 4

One day as I sat in the restaurant savoring my lunch, a man in an ivory suit came into the place. His head was as white and hairless as an eggshell, and when he spoke, every syllable came out twisted into an odd shape. I think he was Belgian. “Daughter of Lu Ch’eng-Huan, far removed,” he said,  ”I have grown impatient with your truculence. I have dealt with you in good faith. I have offered you riches — gems and antiques, property and estates, significant shares in profitable concerns — but you have mistaken my generosity for desperation. If you will not part with the soup in a fair exchange, I shall have to take it by force.”

Michelle Sze was over at a corner table, taking care of some accounting matters. “Get lost,” she said.

Rated PG for some very old soup

Happy Chinese New Year!

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PodCastle 90: Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-planes” by Benjamin Rosenbaum

by Benjamin Rosenbaum.
Read by Graeme Dunlop.
Originally published in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, edited by David Moles and Jay Lake.

It is true that I had not accepted Prem Ramasson’s offer of employment — indeed, that he had not seemed to find it necessary to actually ask. It is true also that I am a man of letters, neither spy nor bodyguard. It is furthermore true that I was unarmed, save for the ceremonial dagger at my belt, which had thus far seen employment only in the slicing of bread, cheese, and tomatoes.

Thus, the fact that I leapt through the doorway, over the fallen bodies of the prince’s bodyguard, and pursued the fleeting form of the assassin down the long and curving corridor, cannot be reckoned as a habitual or forthright action. Nor, in truth, was it a considered one. In Śri Grigory Guptanovich Karthaganov’s typology of action and motive, it must be accounted an impulsive-transformative action: the unreflective moment which changes forever the path of events.

Causes buzz around any such moment like bees around a hive, returning with pollen and information, exiting with hunger and ambition. The assassin’s strike was the proximate cause. The prince’s kind manner, his enthusiasm for plausible-fables (and my work in particular), his apparent sympathy for my people, the dark eyes of his consort — all these were inciting causes.

Rated PG for action, action, action! Oh, and references to The Scarlet Pimpernel.

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PodCastle 89: The Queen’s Triplets

By Israel Zangwill.
Read by Steve Anderson.
Originally published in The King of Schnorrers : grotesques and fantasies.

On the last day of the year the King summoned the three Princes to the Presence Chamber. And they came, the Green Prince, and the Blue Prince, and the Black Prince, and made obeisance to the Monarch, who sat in moir antique robes, on the old gold throne, with his courtiers all around him. ” My sons,” he said, ” ye are aware that, according to the immemorial laws of the realm, one of you is to be my heir, only I know not which of you he is ; the difficulty is complicated by the fact that I have covenanted to espouse him to the Princess of Paphlagonia, of whose imminent arrival ye have heard. In this dilemma there are those who would set the sovereignty of the State upon the hazard of a die. But not by such undignified methods do I deem it prudent to extort the designs of the gods. There are ways alike more honourable to you and to me of ascertaining the intentions of the fates. And first, the wise men and the magicians recommend that ye be all three sent forth upon an arduous emprise. As all men know, somewhere in the great seas that engirdle our dominion, somewhere beyond the Ultimate Thule, there rangeth a vast monster, intolerable, not to be borne. Every ninth moon this creature approacheth our coasts, deluging the land with an inky vomit. This plaguy Serpent cannot be slain, for the soothsayers aver it beareth a charmed life, but it were a mighty achievement, if for only one year, the realm could be relieved of its oppression. Are ye willing to set forth separately upon this knightly quest ?”

Then the three Princes made enthusiastic answer, entreating to be sped on the journey forthwith, and a great gladness ran through the Presence Chamber, for all had suffered much from the annual incursions of the monster. And the King’s heart was fain of the gallant spirit of the Princes.

Rated G for the travails of princes who seek to be kings and much astonished reproofing.

Colloquially referred to as Ann Leckie month, February 2010 is the month in which all the story selections were made by our slush reader, Ann Leckie. Enjoy!

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