Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Quick Sips - PodCastle #604 & #606

Closing out the year with two stories, PodCastle shows the depth of fantasy as a genre with one contemporary supervillain story full of grief and loss and betrayal and one second world fantasy that manages to build a heartwarming and holiday-appropriate feel and punch with only the lightest touch of grimness. The pieces are incredibly different, and yet both of them deal with protagonists trying to bring something back. For one of them, it's a person, and their mode of choice is necromancy. For the other, it's a holiday, and their mode of choice is a sort of innocent honesty and earnest joy. Both find what they're looking for, in some ways, though the results are very different. Without giving too much away, though, let's get to the reviews!


“No Mercy to the Rest” by Bennett North (6061 words)

No Spoilers: Sadie is applying for a new job. A job as necromancer for a supervillain. Which...isn’t as strange as it could be, considering there are more than a few running around her city. Like Dr. Inferno, who specializes in robots and science. And Nostredame, who is more the magical sort. Sadie is going to work for Inferno following a clash between him and Nostredame that have left both dormant. And the piece explores grief and sacrifice, villainy and good, all the while finding a compelling angle in Sadie’s secrets and grief. And it’s notable in that there is no superhero in the story, only really villains and their assistants, creating an interesting look at morality and hurt in a place where it’s villainy that tends to keep other villainy in check.
Keywords: Supervillains, Necromancy, Resurrection, Sacrifice, Rituals, Queer MC
Review: I really like how this story looks at intimacy and guilt, revenge and villainy. It features Sadie, who at first seems to have been an assistant of Nostredame and is going to work for Dr. Inferno. Little enough is known about either villain, except that they are, in fact, villains of the super variety, rivals who will occasionally attack each other and counter attack. Sadie is carrying something heavy from the start, what seems perhaps like a need for revenge, because in the last series of attacks, she lost a woman who was very close to her. The only person who knew a certain secret about her, who was aware of her whole self. The piece opens up a lot about the bond between the villains the their assistants, and I like that the villains here are not unfeeling or cold absolutely. That said, I do feel that they are selfish and still rather awful, pursuing their own goals and interests without much thought for the people that are hurt. And that really what’s going on in the story is that Sadie is starting to learn what it means to be hurt, when for so long she felt invulnerable to such things, beyond such things. And with that grounding she might finally be able to move past what she’s done and how she’s done it to be...better. Not without the woman who made that possible, though, and here we see the rather chilling lengths that she’ll go to in order to bring back the person she lost. The story doesn’t really go into what might come next. Rather, the reader is left to imagine what might be. Will it be enough? And will Sadie change, after all of this? Will the road forward be one where a hero can rise, or will it only reveal a more damaged and desperate villain. It’s a gripping read, and I love the twists and turns, the reveals and the betrayals involved. It’s difficult at times but doesn’t relent once the end game begins. A great read!

“River’s Giving” by Heather Shaw, Tim Pratt, and River Shaw (3593 words)

No Spoilers: Alexander lives in a village that, every year, enjoys a celebration as strange pods wash downriver and are caught in decorated nets. Inside the pods are magical items that make the dark months of winter pass more easily. It’s something the village looks forward to every year, and Alexander especially, so it’s quiet a disappointment when one year the pods...just don’t come. So Alexander heads up into the forbidden reaches of the mountain that mark the headwaters of the river to figure out why. And what he finds...isn’t at all what he expected. The piece is fun and sweet, a twist on the idea behind winter gift-giving holidays, and a reminder of the various (and especially vicarious) joys they can inspire.
Keywords: Holidays, Rivers, Gifts, Dragons, Magic
Review: This is a ridiculously sweet and heartwarming read, just a little late for Christmas but still very much a story for the season, focusing on magic and gift giving and a boy willing to brave all sorts of dangers to try and spread a bit of holiday joy. Not that the story is denominational. Though there are plenty of nods to make it perhaps more of a Christmas story than anything else, it’s still a second world fantasy and part of the fun for me is seeing how the piece plays with the holiday tropes (mostly coming from other Christmas and holiday stories and movies) and twists them into this new setting and situation. And truly, this is a movie that I would watch the heck out of. It’s so very wholesome, finding Alexander going up into the mountains and finding that the holiday that his village has been celebrating has been something of a big mistake. One that’s been fixed, meaning that if he does nothing, there will be no more pods floating in the river. No celebration. And less supplies and less joy to make the winters easier to bear. I also love that violence is never even something he considers. When he finds out what’s going on, it’s not a question of stealing. It’s not a question of tricking. Where this could have easily become about accidental acts of kindness and good, or even a story about how doing something dishonest can bring about something positive, the story rightly ditches all of that and has Alexander act only earnestly, relying on the truth of his convictions and the joy that does come from making someone else happy. It’s a state and reminder that holidays that involve gift giving aren’t all about the taking. That they’re really about giving, and spreading joy, and having that joy reflected back, each person alight with it, burning brighter, making the cold and the dark of winter feel less oppressive. And it’s a wonderful story, full of heart and holiday cheer, and you should go out and read it immediately (and maybe make some room for a new holiday classic to experience every year)!


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