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Author Topic: EP132: Sparks in a Cold War  (Read 17362 times)

Russell Nash

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on: November 16, 2007, 08:33:25 AM
EP132: Sparks in a Cold War

By Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Read by Stephen Eley
First appeared in Future Wars, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff.

“We’re all committing a crime,” Audra said, leaning back and closing her eyes. “That’s part of what we’re paying you for.”

Technically, she was right. Extreme Safaris took their clients to unsanctioned or dangerous worlds, trips which could result in serious fines or, in Bryer’s case, the loss of his ship’s clearance for those areas. So far, Bryer had managed to avoid the fines simply by having his clients sign a document that said they had insisted on a trip to the unsanctioned area. He had never had his clearance removed, but he figured it wouldn’t be a serious problem. He could always charter another ship.

“You shot a sentient being,” he said. “You didn’t pay for that right.”

“Oh?” She tilted her head toward him. “Is there a higher fee for that?”


Rated PG. Contains violence, mayhem, and politics.


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Darwinist

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Reply #1 on: November 16, 2007, 01:16:10 PM
 I liked this story a lot.  Would probably put on my list of the top 5 of 2007.  Great conflicts, super cool aliens, neat flora, laser guns, gliders, terrorism, explosions - it all added up to a fun ~40 minutes.   Like Steve said in the outro - it is good that these types of conflicts don't happen in the real world.   :-\

The story was timely for me, as the fields and forests in MN are full of armed orange-clad homo sapiens looking to gun down a male representative of one of the less technologically advanced species.   

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


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Reply #2 on: November 16, 2007, 03:49:21 PM
I really liked this story. My only complaint is the story's title - this is a story that starts by looking like it's about one thing but ending up being about something a bit different, but the title sort of gives away the game which meant that I was always a bit ahead of the protagonist.



swdragoon

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Reply #3 on: November 17, 2007, 08:40:18 PM
Um is this still on the deed becawse I can't see it

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Roney

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Reply #4 on: November 18, 2007, 11:13:42 PM
Loved it.

I don't have much more to add, but I'd like to praise the pace in particular -- meaning the rate at which information was dripped into the story, so that at each stage the reader knew just enough to appreciate some of what had just happened, until finally understanding the whole picture right at the end.  It inspired a wonderful feeling of not knowing where the story was going, but trusting that the author was in control and taking me somewhere interesting.



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Reply #5 on: November 19, 2007, 06:30:22 PM
Great story, and I'm surprised to see so little discussion about it (to the point of wondering if there's been another server issue since I checked back last).  But what I really want to comment on is Eley's commentary about action in speculative fiction.  I definitely agree that action is hugely important in bringing in new readers and giving the rest of us an occasional thrill to stay interested (like many of us, I am sure, I went through several years as a young reader picking up nothing but action SF/Fantasy).  But something that went unsaid (though I think it was implied) is a point I've been forced to argue both with with general literary types, many of whom scoff at "paraliterature," and within the genre, and a point which I think was demonstrated by the story at hand:  Just because there's action and suspense in a story doesn't mean there isn't more going on.  Sparks was definitely a romp, but it also touched on serious issues of the attitudes of "civilized" cultures towards primatives and the role of a hegemonic power in international (or in this case, interplanetary) politics.

On and off since late summer I've been making my way through Phillip Jose Farmer's amazing Riverworld saga, which I somehow missed in my early teenaged years as I devoured the works of Farmer's contemporaries.  I have to admit, I myself encounter an over-sophisticated guilt at reading it.  But while yes, the books are exciting and action-packed, they also are a fascinating exploration of cultural relativism, an interesting thought experiment in the juxtaposition of peoples from different times and places, and is full of many wonderfully quirky interpretations of historical figures, demonstrating on the part of the author and demanding on the part of the reader an understanding of historical fact and historiography.

When I was a lad, I remember reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers for the first time (and subsequently being horrified at the movie, which came out just months after I read the novel).  I admit, I was drawn in by the blowing-up-aliens aspect, but that served as something as an enteric coating for the volumes of political and sociological thought going on in the background -- and while I don't now and didn't then agree terribly much with all or even most of that thought, thinking about it definitely helped me define my own positions on the matter.

Thanks again for keeping these great stories coming.



gelee

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Reply #6 on: November 19, 2007, 08:59:22 PM
A great Sci-Fi adventure story, and well told.  I liked the Bryer character.  He reminded me of the safari guide in Hemmingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."  I would like to have gotten a better feel for the other characters, as well as the non-humans featured in the story, but I guess that's one of the limitations of this format of fiction. 
I have to agree with bd: The little niche of fiction we come here to explore is, I think, at it's very best when it is exploring an issue that is otherwise difficult to handle.  Having a hard time getting anyone to listen to your critique of capitalism?  No problem: give your capitalists funny looking masks and call them Ferengi.  Now everyone can see past their own prejudice towards various "-isms" and see what you're trying to get at, assuming they can pick your meaning out of the symbolism.
At the same time, I don't think most of us read what we read to be enlightened.  I want to enjoy myself.  I supposed the very best authors of the genre are able to do both, such as Heinlein.  Hey, every fan needs the occaisional laser rifle, or flesh-eating alien, right?



Loz

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Reply #7 on: November 19, 2007, 09:46:07 PM
I did enjoy the story, though I felt the beginning, starting within the story then going back several times to fill in the blanks up to that point, was inelegant, a more traditional approach would have served better. There were also some repeated phrases, Bryer's companion spent a lot of this story talking more robotically than was normal, for example. I was also rather confused by the characterisation of Bryer. Up until the last few minutes I was under the impression that he was a rather amoral being, in things for the money, it seemed odd that someone who was willing to take people on an illegal expedition to a planet of such galactic importance would be so concerned about whether his actions did or did not cause an intergalactic war. Despite his mistaken belief that the girls were just bored thrillseekers and his explaining 'the rules', if he was truly concerned about war enough to sacrifice himself as he did at the end, he wouldn't have gone there in the first place?

Yeah, yeah, I know, if he hadn't we wouldn't have our story, but to me it was an inconsistency. Perhaps a more open ending that left it open as to whether he surrendered or ran might have worked better. Admittedly we have no way of knowing whether Bryer's actions succeed in keeping the universal peace or not, but I took the implication that they would.

Despite these quibbles it was dynamically written enough that I still enjoyed listening to it on my commute home, and I can't ask for more than that!



gelee

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Reply #8 on: November 19, 2007, 10:14:17 PM
Up until the last few minutes I was under the impression that he was a rather amoral being, in things for the money, it seemed odd that someone who was willing to take people on an illegal expedition to a planet of such galactic importance would be so concerned about whether his actions did or did not cause an intergalactic war.
I actually didn't get the impression that Bryer was amoral.  Bryer has his own personal code of conduct that he applies to his life.  He also applies it to others, whether that is fair or not.  Some aspects of Bryers "code", as presented by Ms. Rusch, might be that it is wrong to take sentient life, or to display unnecessary cruelty in a hunt, or perhaps that the thrill of the hunt should lie in the challenge of the kill, not in the killing itself.  Fairly or not, Bryer applied his code to his client and found them wanting.  I might take exception to his understanding of morality, but I won't say he lacks a sense of right and wrong.
I hate to keep to refer to other writers to illustrate my point, but Hemmingway wrote this kind of character a lot.  If you google "Hemmingway Code Hero," you'll get better explanations than I can provide.



Listener

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Reply #9 on: November 20, 2007, 12:11:21 AM
The first line was extremely promising.

By ten minutes in, I was bored.

By the time we got to the end, I was saying "Preachiest.  EP.  Ever."  Even more so than "Sundial Brigade."

This wasn't even close to a thinly-veiled jab at US policy, and whether you agree or disagree with Rusch's position, I don't think this story would bring in a new SF reader.  The characters were, for the most part, pretty flat (though I liked the alien sidekick).  Bryer was every Bruce Willis-style SF character; the three women were pretty blah and there wasn't enough suspense to make it a surprise that Liv's character turned on Bryer.

This could've been "The Watching People".  Wish it was.  But this story was extremely heavy-handed, the world and alliance weren't built well enough, and the action didn't lend itself to being read out loud.  Steve did the best job he could, but honestly..?  No.  No suspense. 

So, in short, I did not like this story at all, and I'm starting to remember WHY I've only ever really liked one story by Rusch.

By the way, on the whole, I don't think that extended fast-moving action scenes lend themselves to being read aloud.  Short bursts, sure.  But not the longer ones.  Even in "Send In The Clowns", the action felt a little tough.

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Russell Nash

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Reply #10 on: November 20, 2007, 05:49:45 PM
Since when does something called a glider have powered flight?



Loz

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Reply #11 on: November 20, 2007, 06:17:16 PM
Well it's... erm... you see... it's 'cos...


Wizards did it?


Look over there, it's a badger with a gun...

[ exeunts thread ]



Listener

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Reply #12 on: November 20, 2007, 07:19:51 PM
Since when does something called a glider have powered flight?

I was guessing it was a slang term for a hovercraft of some sort, or something that glided over the ground.

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Chodon

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Reply #13 on: November 20, 2007, 08:23:45 PM
For some reason I didn't see this story as a jab at US political policy.  I just enjoyed it as a story.  I could certainly see one losing enjoyment of this story if it were looked at that way.

Overall I liked it.  There was shooting of lasers, scary grass that will cut you to shreds, aliens, and cool technology.  Everything I like in a sci-fi story (excluding sentient milk frothers).  If you just leave out politics and look at it as a Bruce Willis flick in the future I think it will be much more enjoyable (Listener, I'm speaking..er...typing in your direction).  It loses a lot when it's looked at as a story to develop characters or resolve conflicts by anything other than gunfire.  This story is about action, like Steve said in the intro, and I think it pulled it off well.  If sci-fi action isn't your thing then I could see how you wouldn't like this story, but if you are just interested in gunfights, explosions, and she-hunters/murderers this is a good story.

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Bdoomed

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Reply #14 on: November 21, 2007, 03:29:30 AM
Extreme Safari Trip - 8000 credits
High Powered laser rifle - 700 credits
Enough explosive power to level multiple villages - 2000 credits
Refusing to be a pawn in a political terrorism conspiracy - priceless.

There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Escape Pod.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


gelee

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Reply #15 on: November 21, 2007, 12:43:42 PM
Extreme Safari Trip - 8000 credits
High Powered laser rifle - 700 credits
Enough explosive power to level multiple villages - 2000 credits
Refusing to be a pawn in a political terrorism conspiracy - priceless.

There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Escape Pod.
Hah, I like that. 



Russell Nash

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Reply #16 on: November 21, 2007, 12:59:19 PM
Since when does something called a glider have powered flight?

I was guessing it was a slang term for a hovercraft of some sort, or something that glided over the ground.

There's a couple of sentences with looking down from the gliders, and falling to death from them.



Ocicat

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Reply #17 on: November 21, 2007, 06:33:03 PM
I find I don't have much to say, but really enjoyed the story.  For being an "adventure story" it covered a lot of ground, idea wise.

As to the glider, maybe it had powered takeoff, but was expected to glide for most of a flight or something. 



Bdoomed

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Reply #18 on: November 21, 2007, 06:54:00 PM
Extreme Safari Trip - 8000 credits
High Powered laser rifle - 700 credits
Enough explosive power to level multiple villages - 2000 credits
Refusing to be a pawn in a political terrorism conspiracy - priceless.

There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Escape Pod.
Hah, I like that. 
^_^

as for gliders... could be named because it looks like they glide
why is a plane called a plane? isnt a plane a large expanse of land? or a mathematical term? that has nothing to do with flight.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


Liminal

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Reply #19 on: November 21, 2007, 08:31:51 PM
"Sparks" seemed mildly diverting when I listened to it, but after it was over I found myself wanting more. The characters never left their various cookie-cutters and I never truly gained a sense of just what the "Cold War" was about. The shift from personal stakes (getting off the planet alive) to political stakes (averting a war) seemed both abrupt and without narrative justification.

I also didn't feel that the story was all that action-packed. Except for the bit at the end with Bryer being shot at. Even then, the action seemed too linear, too relaxed to be compelling.

I hate it that my first post in the forum is so negative, because I do love Escape Pod lots and lots!!



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goatkeeper

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Reply #20 on: November 21, 2007, 11:49:02 PM
ROCK ON!

Lots of good stuff crammed in this story.  I don't mind a story being a little preachy as long as it has alien hunting and badass razor grass. 

I haven't hated (in a good way) a character in a story as much as Audra in a while.  Steve's great nasal, snooty female voice helped there. 

Now I know that there is a lot more to being an interplanetary hunter than just kicking Danny Glover's ass.
« Last Edit: November 24, 2007, 03:27:49 AM by goatkeeper »



swdragoon

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Reply #21 on: November 23, 2007, 10:12:58 PM
Ok now that my pod catcher finealy saw this ep I enjoyed it. It was nice to hear a story whare the bad guy wasent military men or a govrement.

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darth_schmoo

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Reply #22 on: November 24, 2007, 06:48:25 AM
I was also rather confused by the characterisation of Bryer. Up until the last few minutes I was under the impression that he was a rather amoral being, in things for the money, it seemed odd that someone who was willing to take people on an illegal expedition to a planet of such galactic importance would be so concerned about whether his actions did or did not cause an intergalactic war.

A few years ago, over in the UK, a government laptop containing all manner of sensitive data was stolen.  The story hit the media, with all sorts of dire warnings about how that security breach could harm the country.  A week later, the laptop was dropped off to the relevant agency with an attached note:  "I'm a thief, not a bloody traitor!"

Bryer's character seemed pretty consistent to me.



Faldor

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Reply #23 on: November 28, 2007, 03:24:01 AM
I loved this story, the main character reminded me to a certain degree of Mal from Firefly, I would agree that perhaps the title said a bit too much, but I enjoyed the adventure, the alien sidekick and the smaller story effecting a larger political one.



Planish

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Reply #24 on: November 28, 2007, 06:02:05 AM
If Mark Twain said "Wagner's music is better than it sounds", then this story was kinda' the opposite. I quite enjoyed it even though, upon closer inspection, I probably shouldn't have. It was somewhat like a half-hour episode of an SF anthology TV series from a mainstream network. (Hmm... Bruce Willis as Bryer, yes.... Lucy Liu, Eliza Dushku, and Hilary Swank as the clients, ... maybe.)
I give it a 3 out of 5.

I loved the bit of cleverness set up by the self-disposing beer cap, followed by the payoff with the wine cork that pauses in mid-air for inspection before disposing itself.

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Reply #25 on: November 28, 2007, 05:35:46 PM
I was with it, more or less, until the end. I'm not sure I read it as "preachy", though I can understand why others did. Instead, I felt it was simply a stretch. For me, that final epiphany to surrender came out of nowhere, and felt very out of character. Bryer wasn't concerned about the politics until that last couple paragraphs, and he certainly wasn't tired of running or breaking the law(s). The more the narration elaborated on the reasons for Bryer's surrender, the more I felt like I was listening to the end of some other character's story. 

Also, the politics of the planet felt tacked on -- the politics and inter-special tensions were told-not-shown, and as a result, the stakes felt very abstract, especially when compared to the very tangible action, which I did enjoy. It seemed like the story could be stronger, more visceral, personal, and disturbing without the political angle. That, or the politics and tension could take a step into the foreground, and permeate the piece, as in a story like "The Sundial Brigade".

Really enjoyed the planetary and xenomorphic descriptions, though. And reading was quite good.



Roney

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Reply #26 on: November 28, 2007, 08:03:48 PM
Bruce Willis as Bryer, yes.... Lucy Liu, Eliza Dushku, and Hilary Swank as the clients

I'd probably watch that.  A few times.  Although I'd vote for Russell Crowe as Bryer.

Even a bad Hollywood interpretation of this story would likely be better to watch than recent summer blockbusters.



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Reply #27 on: November 28, 2007, 09:44:10 PM
Russell Crowe irritates me and Bruce Willis doesn't *sigh*, but what about Matt Damon as Bryer? Rawr.

*cough* Sorry.

Hi I'm new! *waves*  ;D

I really loved this episode. It reminded me of Robert Heinlein adventures, like Glory Road or something; good fun gadget-full sci fi stuff with a bit of deadly force. And who doesn't just love an alien sidekick? Political comments aside, this was a fun episode for me.

And yeah, I agree with the 'glider' conclusions; it's just a name of a thing and has less to do with physics than what people want to call it. (Maybe it's actually short for it's real name, power glider or something like that.)
We drive cars. If they flew, what would we call them? Flying cars or some shorter, hipper name? hehe. Glider sounds cool too, and I don't blame the author for using it in this case, however improper a designation.  :)

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contra

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Reply #28 on: November 28, 2007, 11:30:49 PM
Did I like this story?
All the characters did exactly what I expected them to as we learned about them.  It didn't surprise me on any level.

But somehow, those are not bad points for this story.  It worked.  It was well written and well executed with a believable conclusion.

Tell this story to kids as a tale of what breaking the rules, covering it up and lying can cause.
>_>

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Reply #29 on: November 30, 2007, 10:21:58 PM
We drive cars. If they flew, what would we call them? Flying cars or some shorter, hipper name?
We'd start out with flying cars as a generic term, which would be shortened to flycars with the next generation, eventually coming to be pronounced like "flickers" because they would also get an increase in speed in conjunction with a hyper-intelligent air traffic routing system that made sure two or more cars would never be in the same place at the same time. Of course, the population would get complacent with the subsequent sudden drop in the frequency of auto accidents, paving the way for pranksters and terrorists to gum up the works and bring the country to a frightened, screeching halt with a few well-placed system hacks and suicidal stunt drivers.

In other news, not a bad story. Not one of my favorites, and my favorite bits were the tech, flora, and fauna rather than any of the story. Perhaps the story would work better in long form, using this version as a plot sketch to work from--I would be satisfied to delve into the many worlds with fantastic denizens and wildlife, and the seedy underworld of illegal hunting expeditions, and the political brouhaha of the barely glossed Alliance. There just wasn't enough space to develop all of that to the fullest extent in the short story.

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Thaurismunths

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Reply #30 on: December 03, 2007, 04:21:58 AM
I really enjoyed this story.
It was perhaps a little too well rounded, but it was a very colorful and entertaining piece of SF.
I couldn't enjoy a story like this every week, unless it was a series, but I think it was a great choice for EP.

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VBurn

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Reply #31 on: December 06, 2007, 01:59:27 PM
I don't mind a story being preachy, as long as it is a well written sermon that is cleverly woven in to the story (ex.Blood of Virgins http://escapepod.org/2007/01/11/ep088-blood-of-virgins/).  I loved the action, adventure, aliens, razor grass (I think I had some of that in Amsterdam once), glider chase, shoot out, everything you could ask for in SF that this story gave.  However the sermon seemed to be all crammed into the ending which left a hint of a meh taste in your mouth. 

But it was entertaining and that is why I come to EP so good job to all.



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Reply #32 on: January 08, 2008, 01:52:58 AM
Short comment on the story proper: I enjoyed it, but I'm apparently easy to please  :P

What I really wanted to mention relates to Eley's comment beforehand about how much he enjoyed "Asimov's" Fantastic Voyage.

In truth, Asimov is no more the author of Fantastic Voyage than Alan Dean Foster is the author of Dark Star or Alien.  The film was first, and the novel was based on the screenplay (actually according to Wikipedia, the release of Asimov's novelization preceded the film's release, but it's still a novelization, not an original novel by Asimov.)

But I can certainly identify; as a kid I enjoyed the book as well (though I came to it the other way 'round, having seen the film first.)


[edit]
Asimov did write an original sequel to his novelization: Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain.  It was in the foreword/preface to this novel that I learned that the earlier work was actually based on the screenplay.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2008, 01:54:43 AM by stePH »

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Atara

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Reply #33 on: January 13, 2008, 07:46:17 PM
Bryer wasn't concerned about the politics until that last couple paragraphs, and he certainly wasn't tired of running or breaking the law(s). The more the narration elaborated on the reasons for Bryer's surrender, the more I felt like I was listening to the end of some other character's story. 

Oh, exactly. I was going to say that I loved the story right up until the end, when we got this interior monologue info dump. I'm not sure how else this could have been handled so that the reader felt "eased" into his decision to surrender - maybe the author could have added some highlights of his interest in interplanetary politics, or mentioned that he had a friend who worked for the Alliance, or something.

But anyway, overall a good story. Anything that involves tentacles usually gets a thumbs up from me.



Unblinking

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Reply #34 on: September 21, 2010, 04:10:42 PM
This story had a lot of good and a lot of bad.

Most of the good was that I liked the descriptions of the offworld animals and plants, especially the razor grass.  I liked the main character, who did remind me a bit of Mal for most of the story.  The basic idea of illegal off-planet game hunters, and a psycho hunting for sentients is a good one.

The bad:  the female characters were clearly going to try to screw him over so it was just a matter of waiting for it.  The ending came way out of the blue.



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Reply #35 on: July 30, 2021, 04:42:15 PM
A great Sci-Fi adventure story, and well told.  I liked the Bryer character.  He reminded me of the safari guide in Hemmingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."

Oh, thank goodness, I'm not crazy (at least not about this.) I knew there was something sort of familiar-seeming about this story, now I know it was reminding me of a radio drama presentation of this Hemmingway!

I did enjoy it, but because I was constantly wondering why the story/main character seemed so familiar, I couldn't get 100% in to it.