Pseudopod 115: Clockwork

By Trent Jamieson

Read by Ben Phillips

Some places you visit in dreams again and again. Some places visit you. Fourteen and it found me.

I stood knee deep in grass, brittle, yellowing, summer grass. The citadel rose above me, its clockwork beat roaring in my head; gears and wheels rumbling, ticking, tocking, groaning under the weight of all that time.

On the furthest buttress from me, though I dared not look, I knew he would be there, a single figure hanging, broken-necked, spinning in short circles, dancing on the dry hot wind.

And because I was doomed, because the dream was a tide and inevitability, I walked towards the citadel.

When I was near, so close that I could almost touch it, the ground shook and the brass doors at the tower’s base flung open like the wings of an iron dragon and I stared into the guts of the machine.

November 7th, 2008 11:26 am

I’ll just pre-emptively apologize for the fact that:

  1. I’m not Australian.
  2. We have no Australian narrators (if you know some possibilities, have them drop me a line at
  3. Brisbane is not pronounced even remotely the way I pronounced it, I now see.
  4. I am sleep deprived and working at the last minute like I shouldn’t be.
  5. The intro/outro sound quality sucks.
  6. I cannot, no matter how much I wish I could, buy each and every one of you a drink for being cool enough to know what Pseudopod is and listen to it.

That is all.

November 7th, 2008 1:37 pm

I’d like to buy all of you a drink.

November 7th, 2008 7:56 pm

Here’s the problem, in my own, personal, subjective, humbly offered opinion.

Too many horror stories in general, and so necessarily too many stories on Pseudopod, are written in this extremely arch, formal voice that does not resemble any kind of actual human experience outside of other horror stories.

It sounds very poetic and dramatic and ominous, which I suppose is why horror writers love this voice, but no actual human being actually talks or thinks this way. Most of the time, it’s not that big a deal, because usually reads okay on the page, and I suspect a lot of horror fans like this tone, even if it has gotten a bit hackneyed, because it adds an otherworldly weirdness to the story that even I have to admit is appealing sometimes. But it doesn’t resemble any kind of human experience that I can relate to. When you write like this, you may as well be writing about a character from some alien world. It’s distancing and non-human, and really only works when you’re writing about characters that are non-human.

This story is problematic. It sounds lovely if I don’t think about it very hard, but as a reader, I don’t buy it for a second. I find it completely uninvolving. Because it seems to be about a human being, but is written in such a way as to resemble no human experience with which I am familiar. I can’t relate to it at all. Which would be OK if that were the intent of the story, but I don’t get that impression. Maybe I’m wrong.

Like I said, on the page it’s usually not so glaring. But it’s the kind of problem that becomes very evident when it’s read out loud. Which happens here.

And the even more fundamental problem is that, if you are going to use this type of voice, you have to be consistent, and this story is not. Again, it’s the kind of flaw that really only becomes clear when it’s read out loud. The voice wavers. This is a story where the voice switches gears quite a bit, but doesn’t stay consistent while in any one gear. It really needs some tough-love editing.

So…I didn’t hate “Clockwork.” It had a good deal to recommend it. I found the author’s insights into his character and his relationships compelling. The plot interested me. But as a listener I couldn’t get past the narrative voice. It just killed the story for me.

November 7th, 2008 8:55 pm

Rare to see an uplifting Pseudopod, especially considering this authors previous contribution. That said, I enjoyed this story quite a bit (quality and all); the ending for both the main character and his character were very good. Look forward to the next piece.

November 8th, 2008 1:16 am
  1. This goes straight to you Mr. Alasdair Stuart: you have a great voice. I feel like im listening to a legitmate program (as opposed to some fan-boi and his buddy giggling and drinking beer for 80 laborious minutes in a horror podcast on Itunes), and your voice is very well suited towards welcoming listeners to the podcasts. You are an excellent host. But — and this is just a minor quibble — you went bonkers with the reverb this week!!! Totally kills your intro, and I love your intro. It sucks me; helps me suspend my disbelief. Please — no more reverb! the dry audio is perfect and intimate; like rod serling doing the intro to the Twilight Zone. Okay, enough ranting. LOL

  2. I agree 100% with weirdsmobile’s observation on the overly poetic and dramatic voice that reads well on the page but doesn’t really connect with people. Though, to add my own two cents in I’m not a big fan of bad dialogue used under the guise as being “realistic” either. What fits the story is what fits the story.

  3. Don’t want to sound like a hater. I only give my vies because i think what you do is great, done in an intelligent manner, and entertaining, which means I’d like to see it improve and grow!

November 8th, 2008 1:29 am

One more point. Is there anyway to have multiple narrators to create a “performance” every once in a while instead of just a read? If you can get the right story, with the right narrators actually acting/emoting with the proper score that actually fits the scene,and perhaps even a sound effect or two, I think you will hit a homerun. Hmmm.. or score a goal, or bend it like Beckham, whatever the case may be , i think you get my point! :)

November 9th, 2008 3:20 am

Weirdsmobile’s comments are right on the mark. Good job!

My shortened version was I felt this story was written in a style reminiscent of the excesses of Vertigo comics circa mid 90’s, which is understandable given the comic book aspect in the story (my framing it like that to myself is understandable, I mean to say). A fixation on ostensibly “dark” symbols disconnected from broad general concerns and more of an exploration of a particular character’s psyche. But what do WE, the reader, get out of that exploration?

I guess one way to approach it is to realize that it falls more into the camp of Dark Fantasy than horror. As annoying as some people may find this endless genre dickering, distinctions like that are important to me as they help me gauge my expectations in regards to a story. Approaching this as dark fantasy gives the story more latitude in regards to poetic writing and some aspects of Symbolism. But I do have to say that I usually find such exercises to be artistically interesting but emotionally disconnecting.

I mean, in the end, this is a story with no real threat. This guy is just obsessed with this singular thing he saw as a kid because it ties in with some emotional complex about his Dad and eventually he lets go of it. Good for him. Scary? Not really. The tone is more one of dark musing than anything stronger. And that’s fine. There’s obviously an audience for such stuff. But I’m not that audience.

Why the story treated the fact that it took place in Australia as a mystery to be solved by the reader is beyond me. “in the Southern Hemisphere” made me start wondering until Brisbane showed up. Did I miss some whopping great indicator much earlier on?

Thanks for listening.

“The important thing is that man is lost in time, in the moment that immediately precedes him – which only attests, by reflection, to the fact that he is lost in the moment that follows”

Andre Breton

November 11th, 2008 3:46 am

I don’t think the setting was intended to be a mystery so much as a relatively unimportant detail.

Regarding Alasdair’s reverb — I didn’t add it, and Al didn’t add it. That, my friend, is a bona fide example of pure, natural reverb in its element: a room with low sound insulation. I’m not sure how to remove reverb, or I might have tried that. Miking can be tricky sometimes.

Mr. Iron Man
November 14th, 2008 4:49 pm

Upon relistening, I can see that it is indeed what you said. But man it sounds like you drowned it massive reverb (pure wet signal) compared to previous casts. Relatively simple to fix that problem, put the mic in a closet, set up a chair and do the intro’s in there!! I don’t suppose you have the $$$ to build a vocal room with sound blankets, but that wil do. The dry vocals work the best. Apologize for me intuitive ears!

Rachel Ann
November 19th, 2008 12:30 pm

Loved this one and want to listen again. It hit on a lot of different levels.

November 22nd, 2008 3:27 pm

What Weirdsmobile posted was exactly what was going through my head upon listening to this story. Pseudopod has a tendency to rely on writing that has a tremendous atmosphere, but little plot or character development. I’ve read several like this where there is this fantastic new world, and more attention is paid to the word than the actual story.

I think this might appeal to SF readers, but not to horror readers (or at least not me).

December 4th, 2008 7:02 pm

Trent Jamieson has done the impossible: a ghost story without any ghosts. Don’t ask me how; he just has…

January 8th, 2009 1:35 am

“I guess one way to approach it is to realize that it falls more into the camp of Dark Fantasy than horror.”

Yeah, my initial impulse was to go “But is it horror?”

March 14th, 2009 10:44 pm

This the the reader I care least for.

Also, the best story I’ve heard so far has been ‘Bone Mother’, and I don’t believe it’s true. Fictional horror is good, too.