Pseudopod 156: The Leviathan

By Blake Vaughn

Read by Ben Phillips

The following has been transcribed from a journal, the owner of which has since passed away. In accordance with his last wishes, it has not been altered from its original manuscript, save where deemed necessary for page formatting.

October 3, 1903

There are memories I bear which erupt from the formless black of dreams. I still awaken at night crying out for safety and, finding myself alone, I hide in sheets, attempting to assuage a cold shivering that refuses to leave my bones. I have given my account to countless others in desperation, but still I know not restful sleep. I pray that in this inked telling I may concretely free myself from this memory, though I admit any faith I once had has long since left me, abandoned me in that lake those eleven years ago, never to return. Korta Ves.

August 21st, 2009 1:40 am

Perhaps I’m spoiled, but this story just didn’t do it for me. Every time I read a story about giant sea monsters, I think of “The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth,” by Roger Zelazny, and it’s pretty rare that the new story matches up to the depth (har!) of that one. Even “The Foghorn” (which Alisdair references and which I also like quite a lot) has a deeper emotional resonance to me; the sheer sadness of the monster dealing with something it doesn’t understand in a world it no longer quite fits into is touching in a way that “The Leviathan” didn’t manage for me.

I think the big issue is that the characters have no real reason to be as shattered as they are by the experience, any more than by any bad wreck. Yes, the monster is very big, but storms have killed far more sailors and ships than sea monsters (and are arguably at least as if not more impressive visually). There are flashes of deeper characterization – the odd “moment” the narrator and the captain share just before the attack, or the disruption of the “twin-sense” of the two brothers – but they don’t really amount to anything or get explored further. I just couldn’t see WHY the experience had so utterly shattered everyone involved. Why couldn’t anyone else speak of the monster? Why did it crush their souls? Was this some sort of supernatural effect, or was it an attempt at the Lovecraftian “It was just so big and incomprehensible!”?

I dunno. I just didn’t feel it. “Doors etc.” has buckets of subtext and complicated interpersonal relationships (not to mention a much more tense and personal encounter with the titular leviathan); “Foghorn” had a bittersweet melancholia to it; “Leviathan” just seemed to have a very large fish that attacked a stockpile of food in order to eat it, just as predators have done when interacting with humans for eons, and this somehow drove everyone mad. I’d honestly have liked it a lot more as a story about the awkward, confused romance between the narrator and the captain, with the big fish as sort of background flavor.

August 21st, 2009 3:44 am

How about with the big fish, and ensuing denouement, as a symbol of the confused romance? Because I do believe that’s what you’ve got here.

BTW, thanks for being hard core enough to grab the file soon after it goes live. Folks like you are the only ones who keep me honest (i.e., on schedule). :)

Changwa Steve
August 22nd, 2009 9:49 am

This story reads like the author sat down and thought, gee I want to write a horror story so I need a theme…ok repressed homosexuality…and a symbol…how about a sea monster. Type type type PUBLISH.

August 23rd, 2009 3:41 am

the author successfully evokes the ‘great beastie’ narrative! end of story.

August 23rd, 2009 11:01 am

I work nights on the weekend; the new Pseudopod fits quite neatly into my schedule. Not that I wouldn’t stay up late, of course; I just luckily don’t have to. ;-)

Let me clarify; I’d rather see the relationship be the focus of the story instead of one odd sentence in the middle. I can see the symbolism if I squint, but it feels more like an afterthought than a central thesis. That is, rather than Changwa Steve’s approach, I feel like the story reads more like, “I want a story about a sea monster! Oh, wait, I need a Deep Meaning. Uh… repressed homosexuality! typetypetype.”

I’d also rather have seen a much more personal touch to the whole thing. Basically, the story spent a lot of time on the monster and not so much on the character, which left me feeling blandly uninterested.

August 25th, 2009 12:47 pm

I’ve got to agree with Nathaniel on this one. The repressed homosexuality was mentioned in such a minor way that I didn’t identify it as a theme, just a moment.

Other than that, nothing in the story surprised me. The title itself refers to a big sea beastie, which was presented. The setting had to be the water, which it was. Most confrontations with sea monsters end with shipwreck which it did. To be able to tell the story, the narrator must survive it, which he did.

The only event which happened that wasn’t foretold by the title itself was the moment with the captain, which was just one sentence buried in the middle of the story about the big serpent.

Also, I agree with Nathaniel that I don’t understand why none of them could talk about the beast. Perhaps that is intended to be a commentary, again, on homosexuality, but to me a story has to make sense first in its presented form, and then can have extra meanings beyond that.