Friday, August 28, 2020

Quick Sips - PodCastle #638 & #640

It’s been a little while since I’ve reviewed a new PodCastle, with the publication focusing more on reprints and flash back posts for the last little while. But the publication is back with at blast with two new stories that deal with grief and cycles of death and remembrance. In one of the stories, a veteran deals with the weight of what he carries, the expectations put on him, but also the secret pull he feels, the moon he’s looking for that will allow him to transform and give howling voice to the pain he otherwise must hide. In the other, a man deals with the intersections of his faith and his family, the desire to honor a parent against the realities of a system designed to reward those who live “complete” lives. There’s a heavy feel to these stories but also a sense of release and freedom, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“Slipping the Leash” by Don Micklethwaite (1698 words)

No Spoilers: This story follows Aloysius Proctor as he follows a moon only he can see. Louie’s a veteran of more than war, his shrapnel scars mingling with the belt buckle ones he received when he was younger. Not that those are the only scars he carries, and there’s a hunger in him, a need that he can’t sate in his slice of the American Dream, the two sons, the wife, the upstanding job. There’s something that draws him out into the night, to a certain street, to a certain club where only degenerates go. Or that’s what he knows people think, what his father would say. The truth is more complicated, and the story has a lovely beat to it, a music to its need and hunger, a soul that croons and carries through the night and the years, reflecting in the light of the moon.
Keywords: War, Music, Scars, CW- Abuse, Werewolves, Moons
Review: I really do like the beat of this story, the rhythm, especially towards the end. To then, the story focuses on the wounds Louie has suffered that...haven’t quite fully healed. That still bother him, still pain him. The ways that, despite surviving an abusive situation and a world war, they prevent him from feeling fully alive. It’s a dissatisfaction that lodges in him like a seed, that blooms into a full transformation under the light of the right moon. And I love that tweak on werewolves, on the way that this man went to Europe and stole, and brought back something of a curse. Not one borne of the landscape, though, not one that represents some Other or Outside threatening the heart of Good Ol’ American Values. Rather, it’s something he created there through his participation in the war, something made from the violence and the death and the loss and the trauma. That took up the space vacated by his fellow soldiers, those that died, those that he survived. What he’s left with is the emptiness that becomes a hunger, that becomes the whispers of ghosts, a compulsion to find expression well outside the acceptable avenues open to him. That could, if he suppressed them, find voice in other ways, could continue the cycle of abuse that left him scarred. But instead of merely passing it on to his children, he seeks something else. A way to express himself that isn’t going to hurt anyone. That is going to transubstantiate into music, into grief and joy. Into jazz. That is going to give him a terrible power that he has to hide away but that’s going to allow him to keep going, at least until he can find a way to be honest about himself in public, banishing the fear and pressure that cause him to seek out the moon in the only place it feeds him. And it’s a beautiful and moving read you should definitely check out!

“Mist Songs of Delhi” by Sid Jain (5036 words)

No Spoilers: Rajaji has just been promoted into a position where he can approve or reject applicants for enspoolment, where the dying are transformed into a cloud of energy, where the deeds of their life become music that can, presumably, live forever. But only, it turns out, some people. And Rajaji has to face what really makes the difference, and how it might impact his own family, and most specifically his mother, who has been very opposed to enspoolment for a variety of reasons, but who might yet change her mind. It’s a careful and heartfelt story, one that looks at this kind of messy practice and how its limitations inform how Rajaji performs his duties. How he attempts to honor both himself and his faith and his mother and hers.
Keywords: Spirits, Music, Family, Grief, Reincarnation
Review: I like how the story approaches the idea of legacy and the way that these spirits become music, become this sort of resource (and maybe nuisance) for future generations. How it becomes Rajaji’s job to figure out who should get enspooled, and what exactly he’s doing with that power. For me, he begins the story so sure that the process is only a good. That it’s just. That being enspooled is an honor and enriches everyone. It’s only after dealing with his mother and his own “failure” that he starts to question things. Because it turns out that those he thought were great candidates...weren’t exactly. They were people who never stopped living, who wanted to keep on living. And so after being turned to music...they went back to be reborn. Only those who had no unfinished business, who considered their life complete, that become permanent music. And so he’s pressured to only let those through that are done, that are “complete.” And it gives lie to what he’s told himself and his family. What he tells everyone. And for me it really twists the way that some people are really never ready to die. And as philosophical as Rajaji might be about it, as faithful, he’s also not really ready either, and has to confront that why he wanted his mother to undergo the process was more for himself, to not lose her. And the piece is wrenching, complicated. The truth about the music, about the spirits, isn’t simple, isn’t able to be distilled into a right or wrong. It’s just people being people, imperfect but beautiful. The result is something that gives comfort to some, and that’s certainly not nothing. The ending comes with a kind of conflict, Rajaji pulled between the music of the spirits and the just-as-real wonder of life and death and birth. And...embracing that conflict, the way that there is no easy answer. But he can honor himself, and his mother, and his faith, in his own way. A wonderful read!


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