Podcast Fiction: El-Mohtar and Ahmed

Two more recommendations from PodCastle.

First up is Saladin Ahmed’s Where Virtue Lives. This story takes place before the events of Ahmed’s award-winning novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, and shows how the aged ghul-hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood first met the young and rather uptight warrior Dervish Raseed bas Raseed. The story is also available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The story would be a great way to sample Ahmed’s world and writing. If you like it, you should enjoy the book as well.

I’m particularly fond of Adoulla, his impatience with the trappings of virtue combined with his determination to do what’s right. I appreciate the role religion plays in this world, how it’s woven through the magic and day-to-day interactions of the characters. This story also touches on the dynamics of power and control in an abusive relationship. There’s a “strong-guys-rescuing-the-women” overtone to the story, which I would have liked to see challenged a bit more, but overall I enjoyed it.

Next is A Hollow Play, by Amal El-Mohtar. This story was also published in the Glitter & Mayhem anthology, and is a tale of love and sacrifice and relationships and alienation and magic. This is the second of El-Mohtar’s stories that I’ve listened to and loved. In many ways, it’s a quiet story. There are no swords, no battles with evil demons, no end-of-the-world stakes.

But it’s a very powerful story. El-Mohtar makes the reader feel Emily’s sense of loss and being lost, her awkwardness and courage, and her love.

I was told that this is the kind of story some people might describe as being Full of Gay Agenda!!!1!!1! Having listened to the story, I’ve decided that’s just silly. There’s no agenda here, unless you feel that acknowledging the existence of gay or genderqueer or poly people is an agenda. (In which case, please go away.)

I’m particularly impressed with the way El-Mohtar wrote about feeling trapped in one’s own body, both from a human perspective and a not-quite-human one. Though this isn’t an area where I have first-hand experience, to me the story felt both respectful and genuine.